Last week, I came across this article which discussed the recent decision of the UK branches of Toys R Us to drop the specific “boy” and “girl” areas in their stores. Actually, this is a growing trend in the UK, spurred on by a campaign called “Let Toys Be Toys“. According to their website, this campaign’s mission is as follows:
“Let Toys Be Toys is asking retailers to stop limiting children’s interests by promoting some toys as only suitable for girls, and others only for boys.
Toys are for fun, for learning, for stoking imagination and encouraging creativity. Children should feel free to play with the toys that most interest them.
Isn’t it time that shops stopped limiting our children’s imagination by telling them what they ought to play with?
The answer is simple – we’re asking retailers and manufacturers to sort toys by theme or function, rather than by gender, and let the children decide which toys they enjoy best.”
Oh, how I wish we could bring this movement across the pond. Growing up, I was not a typical girl. Most of my friends were boys. I spent my days playing Jurassic Park tag (I was a velociraptor), building forts in the woods, and smashing rocks with hammers looking for geodes. I hated, hated Barbies. I liked pink, but I lived in overalls, often with a pink shirt and pink bandana. Fast-forward 30 years, and I have two sons. My older son isn’t a typical boy. He is dying for his own tea set (made of real porcelain, please!) and loves to cook. He helps me with our weekly cleaning around the house, and honestly this kid is the king of party planning. When he was 2, he wanted his own play kitchen. I was happy to oblige, but finding kitchen gear that wasn’t made explicitly for girls was not easy. As I walked down the aisles of Toys R Us and Target, seeing frilly pink aprons and purple blenders, it was clear that I was in girl territory. When we learned he would be becoming a big brother, I set out to find him a realistic-looking baby doll and accessories, and again was stuck with the blinding aisles of pink-ness. Apparently teaching our sons to cook and be fathers isn’t a manly enough proposition.
Do I care if he has a pink tea set? Heck no. But his peers do. From a remarkably early age, kids pick up on the fact that the “boy” aisles contain construction toys, building sets, and super heros. The “girl” aisles contain mostly care-taking themed toys such as tiny plastic pets, babies, and pretend homemaking items. Can parents simply cross those aisles? Of course they can, but kids quickly pick up on comments from friends that “only girls like pink ovens” and “only boys wear tool belts”.
I will leave you with a final story about gender identity and kids, and why we should avoid throwing our stereotypes at them during their formative years:
Friends of ours are a family with two young children who happen to have two moms. It has never occurred to my sons to question this; to them, it’s just how it is. One day, our lawn was particularly long, and I said “Wow, daddy will have to mow tonight!” My older son responded “You know, moms can mow lawns too. Joey’s family has two moms, zero dads, and their lawn is still mowed!” I wish we could all adopt this mindset about gender roles, at the very least when it comes to playtime.
above images from the USA Toys R Us mobile website