Regressive Indian toys: Recently, toy brand Hasbro announced that it will be renaming its popular product ‘Mr Potato Head’ to enable children form their own potato family without any social conditioning of gender. There will also be infusing of more sustainability in their plastic toys. The news of the toy’s ‘departure’ led to a social media uproar and created a controversy because Americans have grown up playing with the toy for over 70 years and accepting a sudden change in its identity became a debatable issue.
Additionally, Mr Potato Head is said to be a ‘racist caricature’ of an African-American and some believe that it should be taken down from the market altogether.Hasbro later made an announcement clarifying that only a new genderless game set called ‘Create Your Potato Head Family’ being launched in 2021 and that the original “Mr Potato Head is not going anywhere.
Keeping the controversy around Hasbro aside, one can easily realise how big a role do toys play in shaping of gender identity and biases among children. Even in India we have access to toys that reaffirm gendered notions of our society, drawing a clear line betweeen what counts as masculine and feminine toys, and how are girls and boys expected to behave. Here is a list stating five of them.
Dolls are perhaps the first toy that most Indian girls are gifted. As a child, I would love purchasing Barbie dolls. From brushing their hair to adorning them with beautiful clothes, I would do it all just like a ‘good doll parent’. While I was growing up, I came to the realisation that the very idea of a doll is regressive.
The reason why most girls are encouraged to play with dolls is for them to develop the instinct to care for others early on. Playing moms to this plastic babies, it becomes ingrained in girls’ mindset that being a mother is every woman’s ultimate destiny, so is to care singlehandedly for her child.
Even today boys are discouraged from playing with dolls because it is considered a feminine toy, which also conditions them early on to be more involved in games that involve speed and “action” rather than those that cultivate nurturing quality.
2. Kitchen toy set
The kitchen toy set continues to remain a favourite one among young girls. Mothers insist on buying it for their daughters and consider it to be the most “ideal” gift for them. But are girls encouraged to play chef and run their own restaurants with these sets? Hardly.With kitchen sets,our society indirectly hint at the fact that the kitchen is supposed to be a woman’s domain. It is where she belongs.
Who belongs in the kitchen should depend on interest and not gender. Can we stop the production and sale of such regressive toys or at least teach both our sons and daughters to equally play with them removing all stereotypes?
3. Teddy Bears
Teddy bears are not common only among children but among young adults too. There’s literally a day called ‘Teddy Day’, when women receive teddy bears from their partners. Teddy bears are simply gender specific regressive toys and not ‘companions for girls’ as the popular belief says. Traditionally, we expect women to be ‘cute and delicate’ and love things which have a similar nature. In my opinion, teddy bears are simply the manifestation of how the society perceives a woman. To be honest, it would be a better choice to gift love and equality to your partner instead of gifting her a teddy bear. Gifting her a teddy bear only contributes to her conforming and succumbing to gender stereotypes and she doesn’t deserve it.
4. Toy Cars
Toy cars fall under the category of regressive toys because they are mainly targeted towards boys. Parents don’t encourage their daughters to play with such toys because it’s ‘not for them’. Daughters aren’t supposed to be attracted to playing with cars but rather invest their time in toys and games which demand her to be more caring and domestic. If we look around us, the disparity in the statistics of men and women driving is huge. This is mainly because from a woman’s formative years, we condition her in a way that says driving is a “man’s thing” and any woman trying her hands at it is a ‘bad driver’.
It’s high time we reconsider the types of toys we let our children choose. The next time you take your children for shopping don’t tell them that ‘pink coloured toys’ are for girls and the blue coloured ones are for boys, as it is the common notion. Let us teach them gender equality right from their childhood so that they grow up to become responsible citizens.
Image Credit: Hasbro