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What if Boys Love Dolls

posted on February 24 2016

Would you allow your three year old son to dress up as Elsa? Recently some friends told me they averted a crisis. That their son wanted to wear a princess outfit but they convinced him to dress up as a dinosaur. They were very pleased with themselves. I was a little shocked and a lot curious. I asked what negative impact could dressing up as a girl have on him? Isn't dressing up all about pretending something that you are not?

They didn't exactly know why but they were sure that pretending to be a big strong dinosaur was a lot more desirable than dressing as a girl. When I pressed them, they told me the other children might laugh at him. I told them I thought it might make him more empathetic, walk a mile in another person's shoes and all that.

What makes a toy girly and does it matter? Is there such a thing as a boy toy and should we care?

In this video one dad films his reaction to his son who choses a 'girl toy':

It's something as a toy store owner I think about a lot. I once had a customer ask me for a plush rabbit to gift a newborn boy, I showed her one in white. It was very cute with long ears and huggable limp limbs. It was also neutral, no batting eye lashes or frilly skirts or any accessories traditionally associated with girls. She told me she thought it was too girly. I joked with her that I did not have any plush trucks. Whether a toy is too girly is something I see a lot of customers struggle with, we have a lot of brands in the store that use all the colours in the rainbow in their design. So you might find some pink thread on a baby donkey rattle and for some this makes the toy for girls.

Luckily a growing number of families are looking for gender-neutral toys. Toys that aren't too pink or two violent, toys that both sexes can play with freely. One customer, Alix Brodie-Wray recently contacted us by Facebook to express how important this issue was and to beg us not use terms like girl toys or boy toys. She said, “So often science-based or action-based toys are for boys and caring or vanity based toys are for girls. Small children soak up everything and soon learn that 'trucks are for boys and dolls are for girls' which then turns into 'action for boys, caring for girls'. Each message comes with associated stereotypes which close boys and girls minds to possibilities later in life: girls can't do science (which then becomes partly true because they were never given science toys) and boys can't look after children (never having been exposed to the world of dolls).”

At what point does blue for boys and pink for girls become sexist? Are our choices as parents helping to develop the greatest potential in kid's today or are we limiting them by our own stereotypes as to what they can become or achieve? There are certainly no hard and fast rules, just take a look at recent history to discover how quickly trends change so what is conventional today certainly wasn't always the norm.

Only 100 years ago, it was customary for boys to wear dresses, Mary Jane shoes and have their first haircut sometime around age six or seven. This way of dressing was considered gender-neutral. It wasn't until the 1980's that blue became the colour associated with boys and pink the colour of girls. Historians agree that the gendered delineation of colour was started by retail marketers, i.e., people trying to sell you something.

These days groups like Let Toys Be Toys campaign retailers to categorise toys by activity and not by sex. Importantly this means that Building Toys are no longer the bastion of boys alone but girls might also like to shop in this section. And toy buggys are not just for girls, all you have to do is look around and you see dad's pushing buggies everyday. LTBT feels strongly that kids should decide for themselves what they think is fun and that there is no good reason to put limits on play.

They say “the stereotypes we see in toy marketing connect with the inequalities we see in adult life. By late primary age, research … shows that children already have very clear ideas about the jobs that are suitable for boys and girls; ideas that are very hard to shake later on.”

The way we play early on influences the opportunities we give ourselves and others later in life. Why are most nurses female and most doctors male? Why is the IT industry the fastest growing job market made up of only 20% females? What's wrong with being a stay at home dad?

Our children are the next generation and they have the potential to challenge the conventions that aren't serving us well.

Developmental psychologist Dr. Christia Spears Brown, and author of Parenting Beyond Pink & Blue: How to Raise Your Kids Free of Gender Stereotypes, suggests that when it comes to buying toys, parents should focus on skill rather than gender. “All kids should have dolls, because it teaches empathy, perspective taking, and nurturing,” she explained. “All kids should have Legos because it teaches spatial skills.”

Playing with gender neutral toys means raising gender-neutral kids, not erasing their identities as boys or girls but taking the focus off gender. Lisa Bloom author of, “How to Talk to Little Girls” says that adults tend to focus on the physical appearance of young girls, saying things like, “You’re so cute” or “What a pretty dress you have on.” These comments teach girls that their looks are the first thing people will notice about them, which can eventually lead to eating disorders, early plastic surgery, or body dysmorphic disorder in teenagers and young women.

Maybe you think dinosaurs are for boys and princesses are for girls. Traditionally we may think that grisly strong animals are masculine and soft twirly dresses are feminine. But if we teach our girls that trucks are for boys, then it's similar to saying the world of construction and building is not for them. Just as if we teach our boys that dolls are for girls the inherent message is that they can't possibly be any good at caring.

My friends told me they feared kid's might laugh at their son. Of course no one wants their child to feel humiliated but aren't we as parents when we make hard and fast rule-- now a big boy like you should want to be a dinosaur-- aren't we humiliating our own children into what we think is right and wrong and won't this eventually be something they inherit and pass on? This sweet little boy has now been taught that Elsa is for girls, when he sees another boy dressing up as a girl-- will he be the one laughing?

Wouldn't you prefer to raise kids who are open to the immense possibilities in the world? Do us all a favour, think about how to open their hearts and minds and not reinforce stereotypes.

Shop our Gender Neutral Toy Guide

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1 comment

  • Carole Frew: May 27, 2016

    A very persuasive article. Well researched. I am all for Gender Neutral toys. I agree it’s time to stop conditioning, our children to fit in with perhaps limited social ideals, or continueing to pass on to our children, the same old cliches we learnt growing up. Blue/pink!! Gender Neutral Toys are the way forward I think. Allowing our children to explore a vast world of roll play. Understanding, & allowing the children to use their imagination . Giving them a wider scope to utilise the best of their environment .

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