Posted by Khushi Bajaj
The debate surrounding gendering of toys is usually silenced under the guise of leftist propaganda against capitalism. Does it really matter, people wonder, if they shop for children from gendered aisles in toy stores? It’s easier to let the corporations decide what someone else’s child would probably like, and it saves time while shopping for yours. While the obvious gender differentiation in the way that marketing works for the toys that their children interact with may not actively stand out as a huge issue to every single parent in the world, the exclusion of certain learning opportunities for qualities required to lead a happy and healthy life certainly should.
The Link Between Skills And Toys
According to the UNICEF, “Early years of childhood form the basis of intelligence, personality, social behavior, and capacity to learn and nurture oneself as an adult.” While learning and developing skills can be a life-long process, their base is laid in early childhood because that is when children are most rapidly learning about the world around them from an unbiased lens.
As Bandura’s ‘Theory of Social Learning’ has already explored, the environment plays a huge role in teaching children which behaviour to imitate. However, toys are not just about imitation- as Piaget’s ‘Theory and Stages of Cognitive Development’ explains, play is central to children exploring, discovering, and developing cognitive skills.
During such an important stage, every single thing present in the child’s environment contributes to the development of the brain and the behaviour that the child will later associate with familiarity and comfort. The American Psychological Association has emphasised on the importance of the interactions between the primary caregiver, which is usually a parent, and the child-including the objects that the caregiver chooses to introduce in the child’s environment.
Therefore, gendering of toys can lead to lack of holistic development by causing a loss of opportunities in childhood. Since each toy is associated with one or more particular skills, children who grow up in strictly gendered environments are unable to incorporate one half of the necessary skills for personality development.
Also read: Dear Amul, Why Do Toys Have Gender Roles?
Living in a society requires constant interactions with other individuals, and therefore the development of interpersonal skills is absolutely essential to lead a fulfilled and successful life, no matter how you define it. The soft toys and human-like figures like dolls that little girls usually interact with require nurturing role play. This could be a possible explanation for the development of more perceived gentleness in adult women. However, it clearly ensures that their own ability to express aggression constructively suffers. The male children, on the other hand, have been interacting with toys like dinosaurs, guns, weapons, and other objects that warrant the expression of aggression-making them internalise the social acceptability of expressing that emotion.
It is important to remember, however, that having a nurturing disposition is an important quality for a parent to have regardless of gender- so your male child might not be developing all the skills needed for fatherhood or nurturing professions, should their life choices take them down those paths. The acceptance of aggression coupled with a caregiver’s guidance on how to constructively express it, is an important skill to have for all relationships in life-including the one with yourself, as the inability to constructively express anger can lead to mental health issues like insomnia and depression.
Therefore, gendering of toys that possess the potential for creative and constructive aggression can cause many issues for women later in life which are then attributed to nature by society.
Moreover, the development of practical skills is also rooted in early childhood play. Toys like tea-sets which little girls are expected to play with help in developing social skills as they involve role play that requires civil interaction with their toys and other people-which can lead to them becoming more confident in expressing emotions and developing interpersonal relationships and conversational skills.
Little boys, on the other hand, get outdoor games that help in building up their team spirit and leadership skills. The toys bought by caregivers for male children are also more dynamic in nature-like cars and model trains. The children can observe a direct reaction from the toy based on their interaction with it. Such toys not only help these children with an understanding of their own bodily movement, but silently help them learn the physical laws of nature like gravity, inertia, and friction, according to a 2011 study by Abdulavea and Sminova. The toys that adults identify with little girls more often than not do not have this dynamic nature.
Also important in life are problem solving skills, which toys like puzzles and blocks usually help with. Going back to Piaget’s theory, he clearly explains that problem-solving skills are discovered and not taught-therefore, missing out on a chance to interact with such toys in childhood can lead to lost opportunities for girls in becoming comfortable with subjects and fields related to problem-solving and analysis.
Impact on Adult Life
Gendering of toys could possibly explain the reason for the imbalanced gender ratio when it comes to careers in STEM, nominations for leadership roles, enrollments in college courses, and the decisions associated with which parent will stay at home or be the primary caretaker of the child. While adults may be using this data to attribute the discrepancy to nature and provide justification to discriminate on the basis of which toys to buy, it is very possible that this discrimination in childhood is what is causing this discrepancy in the first place.
While none of the above career paths and life decisions have anything wrong with them, the fact is that the mentioned interpersonal and practical skills are respectively required by all individuals for overall personality development. The fact that half of these professions and life choices are subconsciously written off because of early interactions with the environment, especially toys, provided by the caregiver is a problem. It possibly takes away an individual’s freedom to choose and develop in later in life. This ultimately results in the cycle of stereotypes being unbreakable not because individuals intrinsically lack some skills based on gender, but because we are not giving them the tools to develop those skills in early childhood years.
A Media Studies student at Symbiosis School for Liberal Arts, Khushi Bajaj is an intersectional feminist and a writer. She is passionate about advocating for social justice, supporting local communities, and believing in the revolutionary capacity of kindness. She can be reached on Instagram and through email (firstname.lastname@example.org).
Featured Image Source: National Geographic