Growing up in a seemingly increasingly gendered society is no easy task
If you have read Natasha Walters’ ‘Living Dolls’, you will recall the striking scene in which Walters’ ascends the escalator to the so-called ‘girls’ floor of a popular toy shop, to be greeted with an explosion of pink, glitter and fairy princesses. This particular retailer was not an anomaly; look in any magazine/toy department/website and I can almost guarantee that there will be some sort of gender binary; boys like action in all its forms – robots, pirates, war (this one has a whole other discourse surrounding it, which I won’t go into now), adventure. Girls, on the other hand, are much more meek and mild – favouring anything pink, fluffy and domestic. That’s just the way it is, right? Wrong. Children are not born with a certain set of preferences based on their sex. Take social conditioning out of it, and I suspect there would be a far greater degree of interchange in toy selection.
Worryingly, rather than this unhelpful divide being stamped out, it seems to be spreading. Just look at the recent gendering of Kinder Surprise eggs. The limited edition chocolates are blue and pink in colour, containing cars and dolls (guess which colour the dolls are in?!). Is this really the direction we want society to be moving in?
Not to mention upholding gender stereotypes, moves like those mentioned above also alienate children who do not fit into the narrow social norms. What if you are a boy who quite likes playing with dolls; or a young female car enthusiast? Arguably, in this regard, it is better to be the latter. Up until the onset of puberty, the ‘tomboy’ is a culturally accepted personality type. Patronisingly, girls who enjoy sport, video games, science or other such activities are seen to be going through a ‘phase’. ‘It won’t be long until she’s fretting over her hair and chasing after blokes’ and other such narrow-minded comments are not uncommon. But what if you don’t grow out of these interests? Does this make you any less of a woman? Furthermore, why must ones interests be mutually exclusive – tomboy or girly girl? Why not both?
For boys, the situation is a bit more complex. There seems to still be some odd stigma surrounding male children who like to play with dolls, or dress up. Such fears bring about with them not only an air of homophobia (not to mention the ridiculous assumption that enjoying more traditionally ‘feminine’ forms of play indicate an individual’s sexuality), they also stigmatise traditionally female attributes. Being ‘girly’ is a common form of insult towards young boys – and I have even come across parents who are concerned that their son is a bit too ‘effeminate’.
Instead of designating certain toys, practices and characteristics to a certain sex, shouldn’t we see things for what they are? Instead of calling someone ‘girly’, can’t we praise someone for their sensitivity? Instead of ‘tomboy’, wouldn’t it be more accurate to say adventurous? Attributing personality traits to s gender isn’t shorthand; in actuality, it just confuses everything all the more.
Rather than this pink/blue binary, shouldn’t the aim be towards neutrality? I don’t know about you, but a stark gender divide is not a lesson I would like our future children to learn.