Gender norms dismantled: why toys should just be toys

by | Jul 12, 2020 | Wellbeing & Motivation

When the maelstrom that is 2020 had barely begun, it was clear that this generation of parents had some pressing concerns.

A survey by childcare.co.uk of 5000 parents and guardians with children aged 0-15, showed that dismantling gender norms was very near the top of their worries.

But why now? What is causing society to turn its back on all things pink and blue?

Those were the days…

It wasn’t always like this. Casting my mind back thirty-five years, I can still remember the feeling of total and utter disappointment.

It was my seventh birthday, and I had been promised a new bike. After jealously eyeing-up the beribboned handlebars of my little gang of friends, I’d been dreaming of adding a wicker basket and a shiny silver bell to my new acquisition.

And then, suddenly, there it was. Without a doubt, the ugliest thing I’d ever seen in my life.

With a well-worn L-shaped black saddle, and a strange and cumbersome A-shaped frame.

I mean the wheels weren’t even the same size!

A hideous monstrosity – a bright red, second-hand Raleigh Chopper.

“But it’s a BOY’S bike!” I thought to myself, tears pouring down my face.

“Cool!” said my brother, jumping on it and darting off down the path.

And that was that.

You can do the cube!

This incident however, was the exception rather than the rule during my childhood.

To my mind at least, during the late seventies and eighties, boys and girls spent most of their time playing with the same toys (the ubiquitous Barbie and Ken dolls not withstanding).

There was the Rubix cube which kept us occupied for hours, and usually resulted in me peeling off the stickers in frustration.

View-master, that gave us aeons of fun and wonder as we slowly turned the reels.

Holidays spent mastering Speak & Spell, with its hypnotic, robotic drone, mean I can still spell ‘Mediterranean’ without blinking.

Lego was just Lego. Marbles were just marbles. Fading Wombles T-shirts were passed around from girl to boy to girl and no-one batted an eyelid.

Coloured marbles

Different hues of pink and blue

Fast forward twenty-five years and I found myself with three boys of my own, immersed in Lego Star Wars, Match Attax, a different car or tractor for every day of the week, and despite my very best intentions, a startling array of plastic weaponry.

Even as babies, well-meaning friends gifted us blue baby-grows, blue blankets and teddy-bears. Only my beloved grandmother knitted for them in yellow or white.

When my niece came along, and I started to peruse the girls’ aisles, I was genuinely flabbergasted at the difference in offering.

Pinks and purples of subtly different hues assaulted my senses. Everything was cute, soft, cuddly, sweet. The gender stereotyping was eye-opening and baffling.

When did this all start?

The gender stereotyping was eye-opening and baffling

Can Generation Alpha dismantle gender norms?

Without realising it, even I became brainwashed.

When a good friend of mine confided that his seven year old son liked to play with fairies, my first instinct was to cringe at what my rambunctious light-sabre-wielding tribe would make of that.

As this study shown by the BBC demonstrates, I was not alone in this unconscious stereotyping.

Thankfully now, the tide most definitely seems to be turning.

A growing acceptance of the wondrous diversity in our communities is filtering down to the early years, and there is a flourishing school of thought advocating the abandonment of gender-specific toys from early childhood onwards.

Campaigns such as Let Toys Be Toys have seen retailers start to remove the “boys” and “girls” signage from their marketing.

There’s a long way to go, but as we increasingly understand the impact that this stereotyping has on developing young minds, perhaps Generation Alpha will be the one to properly start to dismantle traditional gender norms.

Here’s hoping.