Larissa Waters has written a very interesting article about gender-related toys, and how strong gender stereotypes that are imposed upon children at an early age can have long-term impacts, including influencing self-perception and career aspirations.
Gender inequality is perpetuated with more than toys: even when you look along bookshelves or try to buy neutral clothes for boys and girls there is a definite bias of colour and language, and with Christmas around the corner more and more of these items are being bought and taken home. Out-dated stereotypes about girls and boys perpetuate gender inequality, which can lead to very serious problems later on in life. Issues such as the gender pay gap are very contentious at the moment, and more serious areas such as domestic violence or workplace abuse are based on this original inequality.
While such serious problems seem far removed from choosing children’s gifts, it’s important to think about this issue, especially when so many children’s presents are being bought. I know how hard it is- my daughter loves pink, princesses, Hello Kitty… despite my best efforts to keep her play area gender neutral. I haven’t bought her a doll, but she loves to push teddies and other toys around in a little pram at Kindy. Happily, my son enjoys playing in our toy kitchen as much as she does, and when he is older will be offered ballet classes as well as martial arts.
It’s funny though, because despite our best efforts to get away from gender separation, one area which pervades our life on a daily basis is often very gender specific: language. In so many languages noun classes are divided according to gender (ie in French: LA table– the table / LE fromage– the cheese). Grammatical gender is found in many Indo- European languages (including Spanish, German and Russian), and in other language families. Modern English is not considered to have grammatical gender, although some remnants of a gender system exist, such as the distinct personal pronouns he, she, and it.
Looking beyond grammar, so much of our lexis is gender specific. Words such as policeman and stewardess are specific to males and females- although we have alternatives that do just as well and are neutral. Despite this, gender related words and ideas are still common. I’m no feminist, but I can see how this has a negative impact on the way children grow up and perceive themselves.
But changes can be made- as Parker Dains proved when she forced a publishing house to change the description on their ‘Biggest Baddest Books for Boys‘ to include everyone; now re-named simply ‘Biggest Baddest Books’. More and more companies are waking up to the fact that equality should be the norm in this day and age, and hopefully individuals and parents are too.