by Aviya Hernstadt
I walked into the toy store in Claremont and immediately saw a distinctly separated wall—one pink and purple side, and one green, blue, and brown side. I didn’t have to walk closer to know that this was separated by toys aimed at girls and toys aimed at boys. In today’s society, there are huge feminist movements that aim to end this gender polarization by focusing on changing the way adults think about gender roles. But what about the children? Why are we ignoring them in this fight and continuing to make toys that are so clearly distinguished by gender? Children are the most impressionable age group, and we should be raising them to believe that their gender should have nothing to do with the toys they play with and the jobs they one day have.
I was entirely unsurprised that there were entire sections of pink, sparkly princess dolls, toys, and mini makeup sets. This perpetuates that to be a “real” girl, you have to love everything girly. There’s no room for a girl that may like princesses, but doesn’t like everything pink and sparkly. These toys push girls into a strict definition of their gender instead of allowing a spectrum. This also causes the girls who may not like princesses to wonder what’s wrong with them when they don’t want to play with these toys that are clearly “meant” for them. We constantly underestimate how much children perceive the world around them, when in reality, because everything is so new to young children, they take note of everything they interact with.
Perhaps the most destructive toys I noticed were the Playmobile. There was a clean line that separated boys and girls Playmobiles, even the colors of the boxes were different: lighter, pastel colors for the girls, and dark, earthy tones for the boys. Most of the Playmobile toys targeted at boys demonstrated them as police officers, construction workers, firefighters, soldiers, or anything else that is typically “manly,” while none of the girl’s Playmobiles even showed them with a job. The majority of the girl’s Playmobiles was pony, baby, kitchen, or house-themed, as if those were the only things girls could possibly be interested in. This perpetuates the traditional roles where the man goes out and does a manly job while the woman stays home and finds various ways to fill her time. One of the reasons so few women hold positions of power is because we have very few role models that show us that we can be a CEO, or a Chief of Medicine. These toys could provide that sort of example until more women have burst through the male-dominated work world. And as destructive these toys are for young girls, they’re just as bad for boys. They teach boys that wanting a child, or staying home and taking care of children, is not the man’s place. They are stuffed into a strict definition of what it means to be a boy at a young age, just as girls are.
The only games I saw that weren’t separated by gender were the board games aimed at older children. Board games don’t leave as much room for imagination as dolls do (for example, a boy picking up an action figure and playing make-believe with it), so they can allow both boys and girls to play the same games. But, even the board games had minor gender roles, for example, the game Clue. Most of the male characters are intellectual or manly, like Colonel Mustard and Professor Plum, while the female characters included the sexy Miss Scarlet and the maid, Mrs. White. This shows that whatever the woman character is, her role is to aid the man. Mrs. White cleans up after everyone, and Miss Scarlet is the eye candy. Even the puzzles right next to the board games were separated by gender. All the boxes with girls on them were princess or unicorn puzzles, and all the boxes with boys were racecars or trains.
The toy I selected ended up being the game Chutes and Ladders, because it was one of the only games that showed boys and girls playing together and doing the exact same activities. This is most likely because the game demonstrates the children doing something deemed gender-neutral. There is nothing girly or manly about climbing ladders and sliding down chutes. I hope that one day toy companies feel comfortable putting boys on the princess boxes, and considering all activities and games gender-neutral. In my opinion, it is the first step in ending the current extraordinary issue of gender identification.