Last week I wrote a blog post explaining why I don’t like the label ‘Princess’. Within ten minutes of that post going live I had been contacted on twitter by a stranger who called me a
Ok, I thought that is your opinion and we live in a world where we can all freely express our opinions. However, most of us choose to do it in a respectful manner. On futher investigation of his twitter page it soon became clear that I had got off very lightly as he basically spent his days spouting hateful diatribe towards anyone who said anything vaguely feminist. It got me thinking about how today in the western world we live in a society where on the surface we seemingly promote equality, tolerance and unity. Women are now, more than ever, closing the gap in pay.
There are more women in top paying jobs than ever before. More women in the house of commons, more women changing the world. Yet is this unity really our reality? Not if you looked down a toy aisle. If you did you could be forgiven for thinking that you were in the 1950s.
Despite living in a progressive society we continue to have toys that push gender stereotypes that are both regressive and damaging.
What kind of message are we sending to our children about what their future role and occupation in society will be? According to our toy shops all women are tied to the kitchen sink, making themselves beautiful whilst having babies. On the other hand men get to build things, blow-up things and drive fast cars. Even toys that once were gender neutral are no longer. Take Lego for example with its pink range for the girls which consists of building pretty pink shopping malls. No doubt twitter man would tell me that I am being hypersensitve, perhaps I am, does it really matter?
Well, I think that it matters a great deal. I believe that children should be allowed to have access to a wide range of toys and play experiences. Research has shown that play with what would be classed as “masculine” toys helps with large motor development and spatial skills whilst your stereotypical “feminine” toys helps with fine motor development, language development and social skills. So limiting children to gender specific toys could limit their overall development leading to gender disaprities. This in turn leads to lack of self-confidence.
We like to think we live in a society that is united but our shops prove that this is not the case and it isn’t just toys that are gender specific. We see it practically everywhere. With toothbrushes for the girls in bubblegum pink and covered in hearts, to books that are clearly marketed for boys and books for girls. But perhaps the one that infruriates me the most is clothes. The most labelled of them all after toys. Whilst boys clothes are predomiantly blue with slogans like cheeky monkey, girls are bright pink covered with sequins and slogans like princess. These gender distinctions do have an impact on our children. My oldest won’t wear trousers to school as she believes that is for boys and worries about what the other girls will say. She is 6 years old and despite me telling her that trousers aren’t just for boys and even though she finds her tights infuriating she refuses to wear trousers for fear that she will be called a boy. She is doing it for self-preservation.
When a boy is presented with a toy that is labelled as being a girls he won’t play with it and the same for girls. However, if a boy is given the same toy that is now labelled as being for boys he will play with it. This also applies to girls. What this tells us is that labels do matter and that they are limiting. If we want a society that is inclusive and tolerant we need to stop labelling our children. We need to get away from the sea of pink sparkles that signals this is for girls only. My childrens’ Dad (Mr C) is a Structural Engineer. He works in an industry where there is now a huge shortage of women engineers. England has the lowest proportion of women engineers out of the whole of Europe. Gender specific toys has sent that constant message that engineering, construction and science is for boys only. Those gender labels are not only damaging to our children but also to the future of our economy and society.
In our house we are dismantling the gender stereotypes and we are fighting back against the gender specific labels because we don’t want our daughters growing up in a segregated society.