Wednesday, 3 July 2013

Let boys be boys.... or girls.... or whoever they want to be.

My children don't need the Toy Shops telling them what they do and don't want to play with. They can decide that themselves. At 3 my daughter knows she's a girl and a smaller version of me, and even at 18 months old my son knows in some way that he is like Daddy. But that doesn't mean they want to be stuck playing with pre-selected toys that re-enforce these stereotypes.

At around a year old Abigail began choosing toys that copied my behaviour. She began choosing dolls to play with and spent a lot of time talking on her mobile phone. She also developed a like of monkeys. As the oldest toys had been brought specifically for her, so perhaps a larger proportion of her toys were "girl" toys.

Theo was a little younger when he began steering towards "boys" toys. At around 10 months he became completely obsessed with cars and anything he could push around on wheels while crawling. He also likes balls and things he can throw. As a second child he initially had more access to "girls" toys but was still drawn to the few cars we had.

So my daughter likes to play Babies, and my son likes to play Cars, but this doesn't mean this is all they play with and it doesn't mean they stick to the toy shop gender guidance with all their toys.

Different toys develop different skills so having access to a variety of different toys allows children to develop a wider variety of skills. Playing with a car for example allows the child to practise their spacial skills. Playing babies is practice for social skills. If a girl only had access to dolls and babies and household role play items she would never have a chance to practice some of her spacial awareness and problem solving skills.

Although my children might be drawn to the toys marketed for their gender they are by no means the only toys they choose to play with. Abigail will still play with toy cars, though she might be more likely to act out a scene where the cars go to he shops, where as Theo is happier racing them and making them go brum brum. They play in different ways, but they don't see some toys as being off limits.

Let Toys be Toys is a campaign asking retailers to stop limiting children's interests by labelling toys as "Girls" or "Boys". Its a campaign I think is very important.

We don't have great amounts of money so a lot of our toys are presents from relatives. Having aisle of toys marked as "girls" and "boys" would make it very easy for relatives in a rush to always buy Abigail role play toys and always buy Theo construction toys.  At the very least they might be put off buying something totally fantastic just because its labelled for the wrong gender. And yes, the children would love them.

As the children get older and become more aware of what their peers are into, and see that lots of other parents and relatives have made the same choices for their children it won't be long until they begin to think that girls play with pretty pink things and boys play with bangy things on wheels. Once they begin to make this association perhaps they would stop playing with toys they don't think they should be playing with and limit their experiences.

There is also the worry that as well as limiting their learning experiences growing up it limits their potential as adults. Perhaps Theo has the potential to be a fantastic nurse, but if he doesn't have time to nurture his social skills and is taught through play that caring roles are for women only he won't fulfil that potential. Perhaps Abigail has the potential to be a great architect but will be too busy pretending to iron to learn how to build towers. Does Theo always need to be the Fireman and Abigail the Nurse? Of course not.

The Entertainer website allows you to filter toys by "Girls" and "Boys". They have agreed to take down gender specific signs by Christmas time so I wonder if the web filtering will also be going. I had a quick look to see what I'd have missed out on if my parents had paid attention to the gender "guidelines" of toys when I was growing up. I'd have still got my microscope and chemistry set, though in store I've seen these close enough to the boys toys as to miss them if shopping for a girl. The Scaletrix is marked as a boys toy- I loved mine! And my little sister would never have got her Meccano which is marked as a boys toy....well except for the pink set.

Both my children hug cuddly toys at night. They both like creative and messy play and both like music and making noise. And both also like building towers, playing with cars, small world play and role play. Theo likes pink things and Abigail likes blue things and vice versa. Should I exclude Theo from dressing up if he chooses to try on a pink tutu and some beads? Of course not.

My children are little people with limitless potential. Why would I want to limit that by dictating what they can and cannot play with? I wouldn't. And I wouldn't want anyone else to either, be that a relative, peer, or retailer. They have already started working out who they are from a very early age and I want to encourage them, not limit them!


hairpastafreckle72 said...

Hear hear! I have three daughters and have always made sure they have a wide range of toys to play with regardless of the gender they're marketed to.
I could have cried this morning though, my 5yo has been invited to a boy's birthday party "superhero costumes welcomed but not compulsory". She was really excited as she has a Spiderman costume but two other mums discussed in her earshot that their daughters wouldn't wear boy costumes and will only dress as princesses etc. I just hope it's not put her off dressing up as Spiderman on Sunday.

Celesse said...

Spiderman is awesome! Hope she isn't put off. We would be pretty limited on female super hero outfits. Not sure if I'd want my little girl dressing as Wonder Woman for instance. Such as shame for those little girls already being ushered into stereotyped female roles.

commonsensemum said...

Some really good examples of how kids play with toys regardless of how they are 'supposed' to.

I'm really disappointed by the number of party invites we're getting for 'Superheroes and Princesses' parties. I see the girls in long dresses unable to run around and climb, while my son tells me 'only boys can be superheroes'! I'm getting my daughter a batgirl outfit as soon as she's old enough to walk!