My mum and I were at the toy store, Christmas shopping for the smallest members of our family. As Mary Elizabeth Williams (linked above) observed about the gender segregation of toy departments: “Boy world is colorful and full of action. Girl world is pink and full of tiaras.”
Seriously, the girl’s toy aisle is enough to blind you. So. Much. Pink.
One of the first toys my mother considered for my three-year-old niece was a doctor’s kit. It had the traditional plastic stethoscope, bandages, thermometer, and tote.
“Look, girls can be doctors now, too,” I said sarcastically.
This was clearly a “girl doctor” kit.
And they appeared to be out of “boy doctor” kits…aka a doctor kit of assorted colors like green, blue, red, and yellow.
It’s painful to admit that most of us wouldn’t take a female doctor seriously if all of her supplies were pink. That’s not a poor reflection of the physician who chooses to brighten up her work day with a pink stethoscope or scrubs. It’s a poor reflection of our sexist society.
I was so proud of my mother for asking a store employee, “Excuse me, do you have any more of the doctor’s kits? I’m thinking of buying one for a little girl but I’d really prefer it not be all pink.”
Long story short, that’s not the gift awaiting my niece under the tree. But it confirmed once again how gender-stereotyped our toys have become.
(I’ll spare you the details of trying to find a craft set for my little nephew – who recently discovered that he loves arts & crafts – that wasn’t covered in glitter and packaged in a hot pink box.)
It’s not that pink and blue are bad or that all toys should appeal to both genders.
It’s the negative message children receive when they see “BOY” and “GIRL” above the display.
It’s the attitude which allows young boys to believe that baby dolls and play kitchens are just for girls and therefore, somehow, beneath them. Or the assumption that girls don’t want (or need) to play with anything that has wheels, unless it’s designed to carry a baby doll or groceries.
It’s a societal norm which fuels comments like the one made by a man visiting our office who, when given the choice between blue and red, he said, “Well, blue is a boy color.”
With that being said, bravo! to Marks & Spencer – and other companies with a similar philosophy – on their recent decision to rethink how they market their toys (linked above):
The British retail chain Marks & Spencer has announced that in the new year, it will do away with gender distinctions for its toys. The move has come in response to customer complaints about the retailer’s “Boys’ Stuff” featuring “planes, cars, dinosaurs and racing cars” and its “Girls’” with “dolls and accessories.” M&S now says, “We offer a wide range of fun and educational toys, which are designed to appeal to children regardless of gender. We have listened carefully to feedback from our customers and by spring next year all of our toys will be gender neutral.”