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“What’s wrong with gendering toys?”

Sarah Leeves on Xmas catalogues and the parents and children saying no to the ‘norm’

Sarah Leeves

Thu, 08 Nov 2012 09:19:07 GMT | Updated 4 years today

Ah November; that magical month where shops release their Christmas gift guides and parents panic about what ridiculous stocking fillers they should buy their spoilt, iPhone using six-year-old sprogs.


Now, I love a good catalogue; flicking through the pages of things I will inevitably impulse buy then instantly regret and hide in the wardrobe for years is the highlight of my pre-Christmas shopping (FYI NO-ONE needs an inflatable vibrating chair, not even your single straight friends). I also spend time in the toy section, regrettably parting with my hard earned cash for the Christmas presents of friends' offspring who will have broken the educational space observatory I bought them by Boxing Day. Bastards.


Anyway, it strikes me as odd how regimented these catalogues are; pages upon pages of dolls, kitchen sets and pushchairs suddenly switch to wrestling figures, car tracks and science experiment kits. It's definitely girls vs boys. And, for any parent who is confused as to what suitably gendered toy they should buy little Johnny, fear not; all toys are accompanied by pictures of children of the 'correct' gender.


"Oh don't be silly!" I hear you cry. "What's wrong with gendering toys?" Well nothing, but it's not really a sign of the times is it? Let's take kitchen toys and cookery sets as an example; clearly associated with girls and housewife ideals and advertised as such. But the male to female ratio of TV chefs is hardly following the 'rule'; it's Nigella Lawson and Lorraine Pascale vs Jamie Oliver, Heston Blumenthal, James Martin, Gordon Ramsay, Hugh Fearnley-Whatshisname, Rick Stein, the Hairy Bikers and those two Italian blokes that drink wine and eat lots. It's hardly a female dominated realm. We also saw an all-male final of The Great British Bake Off this time around. See what I mean? It just seems a little outdated to advertise toys, in the twenty-first century, on the basis of gender rather than cultural trends.


I *joyfully* work with children and am always pleasantly surprised and jealous of their wardrobe choices; last week, I looked after a girl in a Spiderman suit with a tiara, a boy dressed all in pink, a cowgirl called Stephanie who also had an eye patch "cos I fink pirates are cool" and a football kit clad boy pushing a pram. Awesome. Parents seem generally proud of their kids choices, although the odd Dad begrudges his son's glittery purple nails; "I'm just worried this and his pink t-shirt will turn him gay." Get a grip. You can't gender a colour, it's ludicrous. Otherwise all the world's flamingos would be female. His wife agrees with me…  and she's hot.


Some of you may think I'm mentally unstable and worry I'm about to launch a post-gender society campaign, where all children are born without gender and given unisex names like Leslie, Sandy, Joe and Margaret. Chillax, I'm not down with that. My thoughts are this; there are girly girls and boyish boys and boyish girls and girly boys. That doesn't mean they'll grow up gay or straight or whatever, it just means kids are discoverers. Let Tracey watch wrestling and let Mark bake cupcakes; let them discover who they are.


Gender roles are becoming less relevant and children are more aware of themselves, different identities and the world. It's 2012; culture is changing and the toy industry should too. Catalogues! Open up your pages to the interests of children, not the gender of children.



Follow Sarah on Twitter @sleevsie22

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