Gender discrimination runs deep in our blood. It starts right when we are just toddlers. There are toys for boys and toys for girls. But why is that so? And should it change?
In short, my answer is no. Well, at least not all of them. Although this is an opinion, and if you have a different one, that's okay. Always remember to listen to the other side of the discussion. You can always learn from those who oppose you, if not to change your opinion, then to add strength to it. But without further ado, here is why we shouldn't make all toys gender-neutral.
What is Gender Neutrality?
While the name is self-explanatory, let's just give the definition for clarification purposes. According to Merriam-Webster, gender neutrality is described as "not referring to either sex, but only to people in general". Therefore gender-neutral toys would be toys that aren't for one gender or another.
Why the Gender-Neutral Conversation is Important
Gender neutrality adds a third option of self-expression and self-exploration. When the topic of gender-neutral toys, there is a group of people who believe that we should fully transition to gender-neutral everything. When discussing this topic with a peer, she made an excellent point.
"If all toys were gender neutral though, then it would be harder for parents to determin whether their kid is comfortable with their gender or expressing it differently... expression and gender can coincide, but they don't always do."
We definitely need the option of "gender neutrality" because it offers a new style of opportunities. Although anyone can enjoy anything, so everything made and sold is already gender-neutral. It's simply a matter of perception.
Is Excessive Gender Neutrality Furthering the Gender Gap?
It's well known by now that there is no such thing as a girl color or a boy color, so why make things "neutral". Marketing is everything. So, why not just market toys as toys? You would think this would be what gender neutrality would be fighting for, but no instead of normalizing boys and girls playing with Barbies and monster trucks alike, we try to change toys in general.
It's okay to have "gender-neutral" toys, but by leaning so far into this, you're furthering the narrative of gender stereotypes. We should be teaching our children to play with whatever toys they want and to be unapologetic about what makes them happy. Instead, we're limiting two options by trying to change things to a third.
All toys are already gender-neutral but gender stereotypes shame children into picking one thing over the other. It is perfectly okay for a little girl to want a "boy's toy" just as it is for her to want a "girl's toy". The same goes for a little boy who may want a baby doll and a monster truck.
Toys Are Already Gender-Neutral
The problem doesn't lie within the toy itself but within the traditional gender roles that adults are inflicting on and instilling in children. Gender-neutral toys are a good thing, but so are all toys. If you want to buy some toys for your kids, siblings nieces/nephews, or any special little in your life. Just let them pick whatever they want, or, if they're not there with you, pick something that fits their personality, not their gender.
Importance of Toys in Child Development
Why do we need toys? Toys are incredibly useful tools in teaching from a young age for improvement of both fine and gross motor skills, as well as empathy training, problem-solving skills, social skill development, and many other important skills.
Dolls especially come in handy when teaching against racial, sexual, and gender discrimination. You don't even have to use these toys to bring up these topics if you're not sure how to bring them up, you can just let your child express themselves and monitor their behavior. If they treat one doll differently because of the dolls assigned race, gender, love interest, etcetera, you can use this as a teachable moment.
When shopping for toys there is a lot of thought that should go into a decision, such as safety codes, personality, and age.
Age Appropriate Toys to Pick for Any Child:
Types of toys: Rattles, large wooden or plastic rings, mirrors, push-pull toys, balls, & multi-textured objects.
Effect of toys: Babies start to reach for things around 4-months. This is a good time to begin mindful toy shopping. Infants learn through their senses, so non-toxic, multi-texture objects are great learning tools! These toys will also improve fine & gross motor skills and hand-eye coordination.
Types of toys: Walkers, large piece puzzles, shape sorters, dolls, alphabet blocks, pop-up toys, mechanical toys; toys with buttons, switches, knobs & levers, make-believe toys; playsets, kitchen toys, toy tools, doctor toys, rocking horse, tricycle,
Effect of toys: Toddlers are busy little bugs! They often find themselves trying to figure the world out. Toys for them should focus on the "how" things work. Now having the concept of using their fine and gross motor skills grasped should also have toys that will help them perfect these skills.
Types of toys: Dress up clothes, dolls, bicycle (with training wheels), transportation toys, board games (board games!!!), craft kits, science kits, magnets, remote control vehicles, puzzles, jump ropes, hula hoops, sports equipment, etcetera.
Effect of toys: Children by this age have personal interests that their toys should begin to reflect. If you haven't already, now would be a good time to start letting them pick out a few of their own toys, letting children pick what they like no matter what color or marketed gender it is is important, this is a way for them to show self-expression.
There are a lot of decisions that go into buying toys. But, gender shouldn't be one of them. Toys should just be toys, we don't need to change the toys we make, we need to work towards a world where we don't inflict our views on sexuality and gender roles on children. After all, children don't really know or even care about these things, they're just trying to have fun and live their best lives.