The influence that gender-based toys can have on a child’s development concerns parents most in the midst of blatant gender-targeted marketing. Gulf News spoke to various parents and they didn’t want to see their children discouraged to pursue different interests, especially if it happened to be already designated to a particular gender.
Sisina Anish, a design engineer based in Dubai and a mother of two, said: “I don’t think there should be toys for certain genders. I don’t mind my girl playing with cars, and I tell her that even mama drives a car. And my boy plays with the kitchen set and role plays of working at a restaurant.”
She believes that her children should play with toys that develop milestones.
Anish said: “Dolls promote imagination and creativity, and I think it’s important for both boys and girls to practice this.”
And Anish is probably right in her thinking. The University of Nebraska in the US came out with a study in the Journal of Educational Psychology that concluded how dolls and other female stereotyped toys showed more complex playing when used by both boys and girls.
Anish said: “When I go get toys, most of them are based on cartoon characters. Firstly, they are overpriced. And I do think: Why can’t they have toys that they can commonly use? I really do wish they were playing with things that are common because when they grow up, they will be working together.”
Melissa Bebee, ran a childcare center in London, Canada and is a mother of two. She told Gulf News: “As a parent, I have personally purchased toys based on the individual interests of my children, regardless of whether a toy was a traditionally gender-specific toy. That means that I have purchased dolls for [my son] Drake and trucks for [my daughter] Portia and vice versa. I am a big proponent of fostering a child’s interests rather than follow the status quo or what is currently popular.”
Bebee thinks that progression in gender-neutral toys has digressed since the 1960s. A California State Univeristy study on the “Ideal Woman” talked about how the role of women has evolved in the past half a century. Fifty years ago, education was on the rise and saw many women entering into the job market and demanding more rights in the workplace.
Bebee said: “I find it funny that we went from an era where little girls grew up, in my time, wanting to be veterinarians and doctors and played ‘doctor’ and ‘Cowboys and Indians’, as well as ‘house’ and dolls. But now, every single little girl I meet wants to be Elsa [from Disney’s Frozen] or whatever the Disney Princess-of-the-day is. And, that is all marketing - and great marketing at that!”
The consensus has been that children shouldn’t feel pressured on what to play with. Maitha Khalifa is an Aid Programming Executive in Abu Dhabi and she worries about how it will affect children’s career choices.
Khalifa said: “If an adult girl has the right to choose her major and career, then why can’t a young girl play with whatever she wants to play with? She might be happy if she plays with a gun, car or craft. Toys in any market should not be segregated, it should be mixed and we should let the child choose what she or he is interested in.”
It is no wonder that parents don’t want their children to be affected by stereotypes. To this day, predetermined gender roles have impacted career choices. The Office for National Statistics in the UK showed that in skilled trades, women only make up for 10 per cent of the workforce. Similarly, in occupations that fall into caring, leisure and other services, men in the workforce accounted for a mere 18 per cent.
Parents don’t want to see their children told what they should be interested in and they find that the gender-role toys become costly and detrimental to their development, as well as to society as a whole.
Melissa Bebee said: “I will finish with the cardboard box theory: Give a child a cardboard box and it will trump any store-bought toy in both longevity and use of imagination. And boxes are brown - a nice, gender-neutral colour!”