Gender building blocks are not just about toys
THE AUSTRALIAN GREENS have decided blue is not for boys and pink is not for girls.
However, Greens Senator Larissa Waters was left a little red-faced this week after she argued genderspecific toys lead to inequality and even domestic violence. How ridiculous. Surely men who rape and bash women are to blame for domestic violence, not little boys who like trucks and girls who like dolls.
It’s not surprising that Senator Waters was soundly howled down after she called for a PC-Christmas. She lost the debate because she took an interesting idea and pushed it to an absurd extreme.
I do think it’s patronising to parents to suggest that buying a toy car for our boy or a Barbie for our girl is the wrong thing to do.
And it’s just plain offensive to link a serious social issue like family violence with five-year-old boys playing superhero dress-ups.
It’s most definitely the wrong approach to take the week after White Ribbon Day, and trivialises violence for the sake of an easy headline.
However, although I think Senator Waters grossly overstated the impact of the problem, I do agree that most of our toys are way too gender-specific.
Just walk up and down the toy section of any major store, and you see a sea of pink in the girls’ aisles, and blue and black in the boys’ aisles, and never the two shall meet.
Some stores even have signs advising shoppers where the “Boys’ Toys” and “Girls’ Toys” are — as if they’re separate species.
Nowadays, men care for kids and women drive trucks, but you wouldn’t know that in toy shops.
Even generic toys like balls have now become gender-specific because of the colours, branding and marketing.
When I was a kid in the 1970s, Lego was one of those safe gender-neutral toys. All the pieces were primary colours and you could just as easily build a car or a bed for your Cindy doll.
Now Lego is firmly gender-specific, with the “Friends” range based around a set of purple and pink-hued girls and their pretty houses, pets and beauty salons. It couldn’t be further from the macho boys’ Lego with spaceships, guns and warlike characters.
It’s no wonder that a recent survey found toys deemed appropriate for girls were domestic items such as beauty kits, dolls, kitchen sets and prams.
Boys, on the other hand, were matched with sports gear, action gear, vehicles and building items.
Surely this means we are selling our kids short. Such toys don’t just reflect what kids want, they tell kids what they want.
So I must admit that I like the idea of challenging our kids to consider a wider range of possible toy ideas rather than just the obvious.
It's not about turning boys into girls or vice versa and it’s not about making all kids the same. It's about not just automatically giving girls kitchens and boys cars because that’s what the catalogues – and toy stores – tell us to do.
In my mind, it’s about firing up kids’ imagination and engaging them in new forms of play. It is definitely not about saving them from domestic violence or the gender pay gap later in life, as Senator Waters has been claiming.
However, I do accept that most parents are too busy at this time of year to worry much about all of this. We are flat out working out what to buy our kids – either there’s too much choice, or not enough money, or the kids want something unsuitable.
The minute we find something that’s not too expensive that they will play with for more than five minutes, we snap it up and tick it off the list.
It’s no wonder that for most parents, the genderspecific status of toys are waaaaay down the list of concerns – if they’re there at all. There’s nothing wrong with this.
Ultimately, I think it’s offensive to suggest that mums and dads don’t know what is best for their own children.
Yes, it would be nice to have a wider array of toys for our kids to play with, but I don’t need any Greens Senator telling me that what we’re planning to buy our kids for Christmas is wrong or damaging. Blog with Susie at susieobrien.com.au and follow her on Twitter @susieob