Gender-Specific Toys And Why I Have A Problem With Them

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While I am sure this topic has been written to death, I feel the need to share my own views on this now that I, too, am a mother. As mothers, we all have concerns and questions about how we want to and intend to raise our children. So, for the past several months, I’ve been noticing things — a LOT of things, actually — at toy stores that have been bothering me for quite a while now. Don’t get me wrong, I love and actually enjoy shopping for my daughter, who just turned a year old last week. However, it’s what I see at these stores that is very bothersome, especially with regards to the disparities in the way gender is presented, promoted and, sadly, accepted.

Anyway, before I go into detail explaining why I find certain “toys” that are specific to each gender very problematic, let me first go into the context of what it is that I saw over the past several months that triggered my need to blog and share my thoughts, or more specifically concerns, on it.

A couple months ago, my husband and I went to the toy store to look for a stroller for our daughter, as the one that she got as a gift was starting to come apart (the push handle had broken and it was too dangerous for our baby to ride in it). My husband had already done his research online and seen reviews of the type of stroller we wanted to get (and it was indeed the best investment we ever made; I’ll write a separate blog on all the best and necessary “baby” stuff that new parents must get, because unfortunately, my husband and I were clueless and didn’t have the right guidance, so we ended up unnecessarily spending too much on baby stuff that we didn’t even need; but, yes, all that later).

So, while my hubby decided to go straight to the strollers section to place an order on our new stroller, I decided to wander about in the toys section to see what sort of new intellectually stimulating and educational toy I could get for my daughter now that she was almost a year old. What I saw shocked me. Disgusted me. Angered me. Depressed me, even! Apparently, there is no such thing as a general toy section (for both girls and boys). There was a section, or an aisle to be more specific, for girls only, with all the gender specific toys for them and then there was an aisle for boys-only toys that are obviously deemed too “boyish” for girls. Mind you, this isn’t the first time I’ve noticed this sheer, right-in-your-face disparity. I’d surely noticed it before, but I never actually paid attention to the type of “gendered” toys that each aisle, each specific section, was encouraging and promoting. And the type of “toys” that I saw in the girls’ section was enough to leave me walking out of there — out of that whole freaking store — fuming.

Well for one, I hated the fact that the girls’ aisle was ALL pink — hot, bright pink. From pink packaged boxes to pink coloured toys (laptops, balls, etc.) to mostly pink dresses and clothes in general. Now, I personally don’t mind a cute pink dress here and there. I don’t. I mean, most of Zohal’s clothes are gifts that we received during and after my baby shower, and unfortunately most of the stuff we got was also pink. And that’s okay. At first, I admit, it bothered me that my closest friends would get me so much pink; like, come on, ladies, you know me better than that! But, now I don’t blame them. How can I when pink is the most dominant colour in every single thing for girls. I literally have to go to the boys’ section now in order to buy my daughter some nice jeans overalls (OMG, I LOVE those) and nice black, green or blue-coloured shirts, without any frill, annoying glitter (okay, seriously, WTF is up with all this damn glitter? Don’t these people realize how dangerous that is for babies? Sheesh!), or flowers (which can look cute, but is also dangerous, ’cause babies can always rip it off and put it into their mouths).

The girls' aisle with mostly pink clothes

The girls’ aisle with mostly pink clothes

And here's the boys' aisle. Notice the difference? Why aren't there any pink shirts, shorts or pants?

And here’s the boys’ aisle. Notice the difference? Why aren’t there any pink shirts, shorts or pants?

I honestly don’t understand why the manufacturers of these clothes focus so much on the aesthetic aspect and not so much on safety and practicality. What’s the point of little baby girls wearing Cinderella-type full-length dresses when they are still crawling? Don’t they realize how dangerous it can be for babies to crawl in those dresses, if they can even crawl at all in them? It’s just so illogical and senseless that sometimes I feel like writing a long, very long, letter to each and every one of these manufacturers and telling them to stop focusing so much on superficiality and the whole “prettiness” factor (whatever the hell that means, because my perception of what is and should be pretty is completely different, and I, too, will blog on this soon, because the perception that is all too common is obviously derived from a very patriarchal mindset — men deciding what is pretty and what is not for women, and normalizing it), and instead focus more on making these clothes safe and child-proof.

Here are some examples of the dresses I’m talking about. Yeah, they are nice and all but, really, can you imagine a baby crawling in that? No? Yeah, thought so! Ugh.

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Another thing I noticed as soon as I entered that aisle was a huge banner of all the Disney princesses on them:

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And, below that banner there were doll versions of all those princesses, as well as princess costumes for little girls so that they can actually dress up like princesses too.

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One then can’t help but wonder why our little girls suffer from the “princess-syndrome.” (I actually have a blog post coming up on this whole problematic notion of the princess-syndrome, so stay tuned for that.) One also can’t help but wonder why boys never suffer from the “prince-syndrome.” The boys aisle, obviously, had no banners of the all Disney heroes and princes, nor were there any costumes for boys to dress up like a prince. Why? Because my theory is (and I am sure it’s a fact too), that princes are “pansies” — they are known to be too feminine. Boys should instead be knights, soldiers or warriors, because that is “more manly.” But a prince? No way!

Okay, so while clothes — mostly pink clothes — and princess costumes were bad enough to see, there was something else — a “toy” this time — that caught my eye that seriously made me say, “What the f**k?” out loud.

Here are a couple pics of what I am talking about:

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Yeah, because it’s very important that we start training little girls to become home-makers and also be able to know how to cook, because that’s one of the main things she will be doing once she grows up. By selling and promoting these types of products, we are conditioning our little girls that cooking and home-making is solely a women’s job, and that they are expected to become perfect little wives and mothers; men don’t belong in the kitchen, which is why there were no similar toys like that in the boys’ section. And, you know what’s even more distressing, dear reader? I live in Canada — a country that is supposed to promote equality to the max. If I saw a toy like this in Pakistan or anywhere else where women are not seen as equals, it wouldn’t have bothered me so much, but to see something like this here is deeply and utterly problematic. As much as I adore Canada (I personally believe it is, hands down, the greatest country in the world), she can really disappoint me at times too. Sigh.

Don’t get me wrong, there is nothing — absolutely nothing at all — wrong with cooking or being a home-maker, as long as it is by choice and is not conditioned or enforced as a gendered norm. Yet, toys like these, it seems, are specifically marketed and designed for girls, because I looked, I looked very hard for a toy like that in the boys’ section, but found nothing of the sort. Zilch.

Clearly, I must be a bad parent because there’s no way in bloody hell that I’d ever, EVER, buy my daughter that. And I wish more and more people would boycott such pathetic toys too. They should boycott it until they start making toy ovens, brooms and other domestic toys for little boys too. After all, all the greatest chefs in the world are men, no?

Another thing that really bothered me and was also very gender specific was this:

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Vanity. Horrible, superficial vanity. No wonder many little girls grow up, wanting to be “pretty.” It’s unhealthy toys like these that set the stage for a young girl to grow up wanting to look like Barbie, while suffering from horrible eating disorders like anorexia and bulimia. It’s bad enough that we have dolls, which are ridiculously thin and overly large-breasted with barely any hips, that are conditioning young girls into thinking that that’s how a beautiful woman should always aim to look like. But, when we also sell and promote products (like beauty or vanity tables), we are telling — no, programming — our young girls that it’s okay — great even — to be vain. After all, that’s how all girls are supposed to be like anyway, right? Vain. Superficial. Pretty. Always pretty, no matter what. These products subtly instill beauty ideals in young girls that are completely and utterly nonsensical, resulting in low self-esteem and long-term psychological problems.

More importantly, we are indoctrinating our girls that it’s important to be vain because boys don’t like “ugly” girls. It all boils down to “looking pretty for a boy.” Why else would a girl who is barely four or five need a vanity table anyway? She’s surely not going to be wearing any make-up now is she? Nor will be using hot irons to straighten or curl her hair. Seriously, think about it. What other purpose could it serve besides trying to teach girls that it’s crucial that she prettifies herself? Wanting to look or be pretty shouldn’t even be on a child’s ever-developing mind; that can come later, much, much later.

Perhaps I may be a overly cynical and against such toy products for no reason, when they could be harmless, but I stand by and truly believe in what I wrote earlier. Superficiality is a dangerous thing. It’s toxic and extremely unhealthy. Unfortunately, training or conditioning our little girls to become superficial at such a tender age can be quite destructive — both physically, mentally and emotionally.

Yet, of course, it all boils down to marketing and generating the most sales to make a profit. These corporations and manufacturers don’t care at all about the psychological well-being of our children; as a matter of fact, the more gender specific a product, the more they are able to attract more naive customers.

Not too long ago, I came across this ad and it sums up everything in this blog perfectly. The link can be viewed here. (I very strongly urge you watch it, if you haven’t done so yet. It’s definitely a huge eye-opener. These marketing companies are evil geniuses.)

I don’t want my reader thinking that I am an arrogant parent and that I am judging and criticizing people — other parents — that do actually condone and naively buy these products for their little girls, assuming them to be cute and harmless. I mean, I, too, can certainly see why they would be seen as such; there was a time, a very, very long time ago that I, too, desperately wanted an easy-bake oven because all my girl friends at school had one. It was cute. It was cool. It was the norm. I didn’t want to feel left out. And, unfortunately, my parents didn’t realize the unhealthiness (er, is that word? If not, now it is!) of such toys anyway, so they did actually go out and buy me one. I wouldn’t have wanted a toy oven if I didn’t get influenced by peer pressure and the need of wanting to “fit-in.” And, as a parent, I admit that I get worried, scared even, when I think about my daughter growing up in such an environment, where undoubtedly she will ask me for toys just so that she could “fit-in.” Toys that I will no doubt have massive issues with. Toys that I wish I could burn out of existence.

Like, how will I explain to my  4 or 5 year old daughter that such toys are detrimental because it is biased and sexist? Oh, so very, very sexist! How will I explain to my daughter that boys should also play with ovens and “kitchen” type toys, because that’s not a girls-only toy? Would my daughter even be able to comprehend what I am trying to tell her? Or, will she think I am talking gibberish and insist I just shut up and get her the damn toy anyway? I realize it will be a challenge trying to raise my child different and enlightened in a society where baseless norms are so deeply embedded, and in the psyche of the people living in it, that it will be difficult to avoid or curb them (these norms) altogether. Sooner or later rebels, skeptics, and mutineers will have no choice but to weakly succumb and accept the horrible reality for what it is.

However, I will try my best to ensure that my daughter never falls down that well, as hard as it would be to avoid it. No doubt she will cry, she will beg, she will even perhaps curse me for being a horrible parent, but I will never — not in a billion years — buy her a toy just because she wants to “fit-in.” It will be difficult, yes, painful even to have to say “no” to her, but I know one thing for sure: She will thank me later.

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