Motherhood, mental illness and beyond

Posts tagged ‘Let Toys Be Toys’

Boys and girls, come out to play…

My daughter is 4 years old and has just started school. She likes her uniform and school bookbag but she absolutely adores her backpack, snack pot and water bottle. They’re all Spiderman, you see, and she really likes Spiderman (she’s pretty keen on Batman too but there weren’t any Batman bags at the shops!).

This morning, instead of gleefully putting on her bag she was subdued. On the way to school she confided that one of her classmates had told her she shouldn’t have Spiderman things because she’s a girl, and Spiderman is only for boys. Outwardly I was cheerful and reassured her, explaining that Spiderman is for everyone and that she is allowed to like whatever she wants. But inside my heart was breaking for her.

My daughter doesn’t fit the ‘little girl’ stereotype. She likes pink but only as much as every other colour; she has no interest in princesses but loves pirates; her favourite CBeebies programme is Octonauts. She likes dinosaurs and cars as well as dolls and Sylvanian families. She is her own person and until now no-one had ever told her that she couldn’t like something because she’s a girl.

Children are bombarded with stereotypes via shops, adverts and television. Thanks to the Let Toys Be Toys campaign many big retailers are changing the way they display toys, removing their “boys” and “girls” signs (although often the pink and blue colour coding remain). But go into any shop that stocks children’s clothing – one section contains mostly pink and pastels, sparkles, princesses and teddies while the other contains bold colours, cars, spaceships and superheroes. I was recently admonished by a cashier at Tesco for buying Batman socks for my daughter; that’s how pervasive this nonsense has become.

It is our job as parents to gently encourage our children to think outside the colour coded boxes. A child should be free to explore and play with whatever kind of toy they like, instead of toys that they think they should like.

We need to teach children to play and explore the world around them, to be active, curious, kind and nurturing. We need to let them pursue their interests and encourage them to be confident in who they are and the choices they make. Restricting a child’s play because of the mistaken belief that some toys are only for one gender, or telling a child that their interests and passions are wrong or inappropriate because of their gender, is short-sighted and nonsensical.

My daughter likes Spiderman, my son likes dolls. That’s absolutely fine and I will continue to correct anyone with the temerity to tell my children otherwise.

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When is a toy not just a toy?

Late last year I was privileged to be part of the founding of the Let Toys Be Toys campaign. Growing out of parents’ increasing frustration at the labelling of toys as being for boys or for girls this grassroots campaign has had a lot of publicity and a fair amount of success at persuading some major stores to change their signs and websites so that toys are categorised by function (science toys, construction toys, home play toys etc) instead of by gender. Although I am no longer involved with the campaign I follow and support them avidly.

However supporters are increasingly being attacked by people who accuse them of all sorts, from not having enough to worry about to being told that “The women complaining are probably tree hugging,vegetarian, stone henge visiting eco pricks!! What boring lives you must lead!!! Get out more, let your hair down,stop revolving your lives around things that dont matter, bloody pale faced, plain jane cunts!” (That was on the Boots UK Facebook page today).

Even a former friend who is an intelligent mother of two and teaches a male-dominated subject felt that this campaign was a waste of time when there are more important issues to worry about. To her and all the other people who genuinely can’t see what the fuss is about, I would like to explain.

The fact is that advertising influences people. We all know that. But children are more vulnerable to it than adults because they haven’t developed the kind of critical thinking and scepticism needed to see through advertising. Children are literal and if they are led to believe that a toy is meant for only one gender then they will accept that as a fact.

A common argument is that just because, say, a science kit is labelled as being for boys it doesn’t mean that it can’t be bought for a girl. And of course this is true. However it is an overly simplistic attitude and fails to recognise the socialisation that takes place during childhood. Many parents have tales of a child being put off a toy or activity once they perceived it as being for the other gender.

Major retailers in the UK habitually classify dolls and home play toys as for girls. Because of course men don’t have children or do housework do they? Oh wait… Meanwhile science and construction toys are commonly labelled as being for boys. Even toys that you would assume even the worst offenders would think were gender neutral, such as craft kits and board games, are segregated (craft is for girls and board games for boys, apparently).

Did you know that only 13% of STEM (science, technology, engineering, mathematics) jobs in the UK are occupied by women (source: WISE)? Labelling STEM toys as being for boys is not going to help change that. We need to put a stop to this idiotic trend and we need to do it now.

I have both a daughter and a son. I am raising them both to be kind, loving, nurturing, able to do housework and know that they can achieve anything, have any job or career they want to. I don’t think this is unreasonable, so why do toy manufacturers and retailers?

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