Barbies for girls, cars for boys? Let toys be toys and get them gender neutral presents this Christmas

Kids take cues about their assigned gender roles from the world around them at a young age - and this can be very limiting growing up

Share
Related Topics

Seven days and counting. Are little Jack’s Transformers all wrapped and ready to go? Are you excited about the look on Emily’s face when she opens her Barbie Dream House play set? Or are you of the new and growing band of parents who this Christmas said: ‘Sod it, my child is a child and not a gender stereotype’?

Throughout 2013 the campaign group Let Toys Be Toys has been canvassing the UK’s largest retailers to remove gender labels and “organise toys by genre not gender”. Ten thousand petition signatures later, they revealed the results of their November 2013 survey which found that the proportion of shops using ‘girls’ and ‘boys’ labels on products has reduced by 60 per cent compared with last Christmas.

The campaign organisers are adamant, however, that it’s “just gaining momentum”, and today the issue stepped up a gear when Marks and Spencer announced that they will make all of their toys gender neutral by 2014 after a public lambasting by the Independent’s own Jane Merrick and powerhouse politician Stella Creasy.

While there may be something innately attractive to some young girls about the swoosh and sweep of a silky princess ball gown, and some boy-sterous young lads will always be partial to a game of rough-and-tumble, the harm that gender-specific toys could do to the development of a child shouldn’t be downplayed.

From a young age children take cues about their assigned gender roles from the world around them. Is it any wonder then, that with the deluge of guns, cars and war toys, so many men grow up feeling they need to be “macho” and “hard”? Or that the dollies, ponies, cooking and caring toys aimed at little girls may have contributed to the number of women in science, technology and engineering roles standing at only 13 per cent?

This is all without even delving into the can of worms that is Barbie, whose unattainable and unrealistic body proportions have been blamed as an influence on young girls’ poor body image. In 2006 the University of Sussex compared the effects of exposing young girls to images of Barbie versus a full-figured doll, and found that “early exposure to dolls epitomizing an unrealistically thin body ideal may damage girls’ body image, which would contribute to an increased risk of disordered eating and weight cycling.”

Although some people criticise the “thrusting” of gender and feminist politics on children, it’s the parents’ responsibility to guard them against insidious advertising. Retailers use pink and blue to divide and conquer, and target young, impressionable, profitable minds who may choose a toy because they think they should, and then grow up with this precept. Of course boys should be allowed their racing tracks and Action Men, and girls should be allowed to play with saccharine dolls to their hearts’ contents - as long as these decisions are made autonomously.

Recently, I attended the press launch for a new dress-up section within a well-known children’s brand store, and was silently galled at what I saw. The little girls were in princess heaven, but one small boy was unhappy. His mother, somewhat exasperated, explained: “He wants to be a witch, silly billy! We’ve told him he’s a knight!”

I say, let him be a witch - with a wig and dress to boot. Let boys be witches or hairdressers or pony-handlers or fairies. And let them be free of the machismo insecurity that from the youngest age prevents them from picking up anything pink. Let girls play in the dirt, and wrestle, and crash cars and fight robots. Childhood is the most creative and imaginative stage in any human’s lifetime: who knows what children will think of or become if we free them from the subconscious shackles of gender conformity.

React Now

Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

English Teacher

£120 - £140 per day: Randstad Education Group: English as an Additional Langua...

Nursery assistants required in Cambridgeshire

£10000 - £15000 per annum: Randstad Education Cambridge: Nursery assistants re...

History Teacher

£60 - £65 per day: Randstad Education Liverpool: Job opportunities for Seconda...

** Female PE Teacher Urgently Required In Liverpool **

£120 - £140 per day: Randstad Education Liverpool: Job opportunities for Secon...

Day In a Page

Read Next
Photo issued by Flinders University of an artist's impression of a Microbrachius dicki mating scene  

One look at us Scots is enough to show how it was our fishy ancestors who invented sex

Donald MacInnes
Oscar Pistorius is led out of court in Pretoria. Pistorius received a five-year prison sentence for culpable homicide by judge Thokozile Masipais for the killing of his girlfriend Reeva Steenkamp  

Oscar Pistorius sentence: Judge Masipa might have shown mercy, but she has delivered perfect justice

Chris Maume
Two super-sized ships have cruised into British waters, but how big can these behemoths get?

Super-sized ships: How big can they get?

Two of the largest vessels in the world cruised into UK waters last week
British doctors on brink of 'cure' for paralysis with spinal cord treatment

British doctors on brink of cure for paralysis

Sufferers can now be offered the possibility of cure thanks to a revolutionary implant of regenerative cells
Let's talk about loss

We need to talk about loss

Secrecy and silence surround stillbirth
Will there be an all-female mission to Mars?

Will there be an all-female mission to Mars?

Women may be better suited to space travel than men are
Oscar Pistorius sentencing: The athlete's wealth and notoriety have provoked a long overdue debate on South African prisons

'They poured water on, then electrified me...'

If Oscar Pistorius is sent to jail, his experience will not be that of other inmates
James Wharton: The former Guard now fighting discrimination against gay soldiers

The former Guard now fighting discrimination against gay soldiers

Life after the Army has brought new battles for the LGBT activist James Wharton
Ebola in the US: Panic over the virus threatens to infect President Obama's midterms

Panic over Ebola threatens to infect the midterms

Just one person has died, yet November's elections may be affected by what Republicans call 'Obama's Katrina', says Rupert Cornwell
Premier League coaches join the RSC to swap the tricks of their trades

Darling, you were fabulous! But offside...

Premier League coaches are joining the RSC to learn acting skills, and in turn they will teach its actors to play football. Nick Clark finds out why
How to dress with authority: Kirsty Wark and Camila Batmanghelidjh discuss the changing role of fashion in women's workwear

How to dress with authority

Kirsty Wark and Camila Batmanghelidjh discuss the changing role of fashion in women's workwear
New book on Joy Division's Ian Curtis sheds new light on the life of the late singer

New book on Ian Curtis sheds fresh light on the life of the late singer

'Joy Division were making art... Ian was for real' says author Jon Savage
Sean Harris: A rare interview with British acting's secret weapon

Sean Harris: A rare interview with British acting's secret weapon

The Bafta-winner talks Hollywood, being branded a psycho, and how Barbra Streisand is his true inspiration
Tim Minchin, interview: The musician, comedian and world's favourite ginger is on scorching form

Tim Minchin interview

For a no-holds-barred comedian who is scathing about woolly thinking and oppressive religiosity, he is surprisingly gentle in person
Boris Johnson's boozing won't win the puritan vote

Boris's boozing won't win the puritan vote

Many of us Brits still disapprove of conspicuous consumption – it's the way we were raised, says DJ Taylor
Ash frontman Tim Wheeler reveals how he came to terms with his father's dementia

Tim Wheeler: Alzheimer's, memories and my dad

Wheeler's dad suffered from Alzheimer's for three years. When he died, there was only one way the Ash frontman knew how to respond: with a heartfelt solo album