After nearly 20 years as an online toy retailer, I wanted to reflect on the impact that toys can have in our understanding of gender roles. In other words, is there gender stereotyping with toys?
The Early Influences?
A couple of weeks ago I challenged my friends with a question, would you buy a doll for a 1 year old boy or a tool set for a 3 year old girl? for example if you're invited to the child's birthday party, you want to bring a little surprise. The answer is no, we will go with the safe choices. A cuddly animal for the little boy and a doll or teaset for the girl. It is true, you cannot go wrong with these choices, children will always know how to play with each of them but the gender stereotyping starts there, very early. What is not helping is that a lot of dolls are pink and tool sets have in the blue and red colours usually. However more and more suppliers are working on this! and we see colour schemes changing for these type of toys.
Djeco for example has a stunning range of baby dolls for toddlers with neutral colours
Is this enough to break the mold?
When a customer rings looking for advice on a toy idea for a present. The 1st thing I want to find out is the child's interest in a specific theme? what do they like to do? how do they play? age and price of course. Gender is rarely a defining criteria for me. Most people will adhere to this reflection.
There is nothing inherently wrong with boys playing with play kitchens or dollhouses, just as there is nothing wrong with girls engaging with train sets or tool kits. It's the exposure to varied and diverse toys and play experiences that will challenge these stereotypes and ultimately encourage creativity, empathy, and a broader understanding of the world around us.
There are still strong examples of Gender Stereotyping and toys:
Princesses...dolls, tiaras, and fairy tales are often marketed towards girls, specific colours, even vocabulary! will reinforce the notion that their role is confined to beauty and home tasks. This can limit access to fields like science, technology, engineering, and mathematics (STEM). This is not exactly black and white but I've always wondered like most of us, why are we seeing so many programmes to encourage girls towards STEM subjects, where did it all start? I fundamentally believe it started from an early age of being conditioned to specific play habits with specific toys.
Action Heroes...action figures, superheroes, and toy weapons are predominantly marketed to boys, promoting aggression and power, which by the way is a good thing! Being able to express these emotions through play is so great! However, this emphasize the stereotype that boys should be brave, strong and not cry. A bit of a blow to the importance of emotional intelligence and nurturing abilities! I love Liontouch, our new range of Dress up, dress up accessories and toy weapons! where the manufacturer has a complete range of safe, foam weapons for boys and girls!
The Irrelevance of Gender-Based Toy Filters:
We still see large toyshops with big aisles, where toys are sorted by themes, often ending-up being a pink isle and a dark/blue isle. Maybe with an online toyshop it is easier to avoid this big divide. And certainly much easier with a toyshop like mine where I do not follow trendy toys, heavily branded ranges and where I have full control of who I work with. I will purposefully select manufacturers who make an effort in using neutral colours and doing lifestyle pictures with boys and girls playing together. Brands such Smartgames and Hape are doing this very well!
When we started Mimitoys.ie in 2004, we had a toy filter on our 1st website by gender "boy or girl". The thought of it, is so outdated for me even bizarre! Our website search is now based around the child's curiosity and it is purely interest based! with a list of I like...I like pretend play, I like puppets, I like sorting & stacking...
I do believe that there is a shift and also an awareness of how much play means to children's development. Yes! boys can nurture, empathise, and cook, just as girls can explore, build, and engineer. The toys should reflect the vast possibilities of who the children can become, rather than confining them to predetermined roles. It is not a matter of looking for gender neutral toys, it is a matter of accepting that any toy can encourage children's natural ability to play, grow and be happy!
Gender Stereotyping and Toys | Mimitoys 2023