by Manavi Nag
For a long time, children’s toys have been gender-specific. Boys have been told to play with a certain type of toy and girls told to play with a certain type of toy. As children, we have been told what toys to play with and whether or not you were explicitly told, there is still an inkling of an idea that girls play with Barbies and boys play with toy cars. The root of this stems from the idea that girls should be prim and proper and boys should be rash and abrasive. If you walk into a toy store, often you will find Art and Crafts toys missing from the boy’s section and Construction toys missing from the girl’s section. This highlights a common stereotype that girls only like doing “girly” things like drawing and colouring and boys like doing “manly” things like building towers.
This is not to say that girls don’t like conventionally “feminine” things and boys don’t like conventionally “masculine” things. As a girl, growing up I loved playing with my dolls and arts and crafts supplies which are labelled as more feminine toys. But the main question is, why are toys even divided by gender and what does that tell young children when they buy it?
A common follower of this toxic stereotyping is the Kinder Egg toy. The Kinder Egg toy has two different types of chocolate. One for boys and one for girls. They are marketed by pushing the fallacy that the blue-packaged chocolate is for boys and the pink-packaged chocolate is for girls. Inside the blue-packaged chocolate are racing cars and superhero figurines and inside the pink-packaged chocolate, there are various princess paraphernalia. Not only is this negative and supporting a wrong stereotype that boys should only like and play with muscular superhero figurines and girls should play with delicate princess figurines, but it also targets young children and makes them vulnerable to falling into the trap of liking a toy based on their gender.
They impose their views on children by marketing girl-specific toys as dainty and vulnerable and boy-specific toys as loud and emotionless. Gender-specific toys target impressionable kids and capitalise off their under -developed minds so that by the time those children become adults they will invest in superheroes for their son and princesses for their daughters. This cycle will continue on and on.
In early February, Ascend’s 6th Grade’s class took part in an investigation of sorts, that was carried out by some of the teachers. The teachers switched the toys in the Kinder Egg for each other and wanted to see the student’s reaction and reflection about this. This is what the teachers that organised it said about it. “We started the class by discussing what Gender roles are and how and whether they have evolved over time. We went through advertisements, posters and magazine covers to understand whether or not these messages were explicit. We also spoke about gender biases and how such messages exist in the toys and games we buy, the clothes we choose and the language we use. We explored the Kinder Joy chocolate as one example of how gender stereotypical messages are a huge part of our environment. We passed some of these chocolates around and the students spoke about the toys. Through the reflection the students identified that it is imperative we speak about this first as a class and eventually as a community. This was also very important to them because they identified liking and enjoying certain things and activities that were once considered to be reflective of one gender. As teachers we want to ensure that while it is easy to talk about certain topics in one class or another, being thoughtful and reflective in moments when we can exercise caution while expressing ourselves.”
Overall, the consensus was that toys should not be reflective of one’s gender but rather what entertains them the most. Many companies profit off marketing certain products for a certain gender, however it is vital for us to understand that things like toys should not be segregated based on gender.