Gen­der build­ing blocks are not just about toys

The Advertiser - SA Weekend - - FRONT PAGE -

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

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