Social Question

Plucky's avatar

In regards to psychological and social development, do you believe children should have gender-specific toys?

Asked by Plucky (10205 points ) May 18th, 2011

I know several people that will only buy their young children gender-specific toys. Almost all of them started buying gender-specific baby everything before and after the baby was born. I actually have yet to meet someone who does not do this on some level. I get that it is a societal norm to do so but I’m wondering when we are going to evolve out of that phase already. All one has to do is walk down a few isles at a toy store to see the incredible difference in toys.

What do you think of this? Should society have outgrown this notion by now? Does it help or hinder society to keep this up?

I am interested in your thoughts on the matter :)

I do not have children myself. But, I believe that things should be rather neutral and/or equal until the child learns what they like. I would have no issue with getting my boy a Barbie doll…or my girl a Hot Wheels toy. Although, I do take issue in how the toy companies portray and distinguish toys via gender. Jeez, even supposed gender-neutral toys tend to come in gender-specific colours.

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48 Answers

_zen_'s avatar

If women are flying planes and racing cars, and men are nurses and flight attendants… gender specific is almost oxymoronic.

Fragrances are unisex.

Colours? Try being colour-blind and then tell me if you care about pinks and blues.

Children growing up in a digital world need love. The rest is apps.

MyNewtBoobs's avatar

I think you’d enjoy Cinderella Ate My Daughter. It goes into depth about what your talking about, explores the history of it, what’s driving it, if it’s problematic or much ado over nothing, etc.

everephebe's avatar

That’s a mega-NO to the OP title question. We’ve outgrown that by now.
Of course I’ll probably end up making my own children’s toys if and when I have children.

Plucky's avatar

@MyNewtBoobs ..the book looks very interesting. My niece just turned 5 and she’s princess this and pink that – sometimes it seems like a gigantic pink princess thing coughed and that’s what came out ..lol.

I also understand that kids usually ask for things that they see their friends have…and that they see other girls or boys on tv playing with. I’m just wondering when enough is enough.

ANef_is_Enuf's avatar

I honestly can not decide how I feel about this subject.

I think that the split is extreme, and potentially dangerous. I know in my heart that if my son came home and wanted to wear a dress or decided that his favorite color was pink, or if my daughter decided that firetrucks and Spiderman were her favorite things in the world.. I would be more than fine with it. However, as for the actual, conscious attempt to avoid pushing anything that might be considered gender specific…. I don’t know. Maybe old habits die hard. I know there is no way that a child will not be shaped by what I provide and encourage in their earliest years, so their preferences will be strongly influenced by my decisions in that time. At the same time, I feel like it is most harmful in excess… as most things are. That may be a controversial viewpoint, especially among certain social groups, but I don’t really feel like dressing my daughter in pink is necessarily a horrible detriment to her psyche. Now, if I am shoving all things “princess” down her throat and discouraging anything that isn’t traditionally suited to “girls,” that would be a different story.

Regardless of what I do as a parent, children will still be bombarded by social influences like the media and their peers, so the tendency will probably always be there, unless society itself experiences a major overhaul.

At which point I have to ask myself if I feel more comfortable adhering to traditional norms that may not necessarily be ideal, but in turn provide my child some cushion against what may be exceptionally harsh judgment throughout life. Or, go the more progressive route and be part of the movement that leads to this major societal overhaul.

Tough call, honestly. I’m genuinely torn.

MyNewtBoobs's avatar

Oh, forgot! The essay that led to the book, What’s Wrong With Cinderella (anyone who can’t access a copy because, as I understand it, NYT is being a bit restrictive at the moment is welcome to PM me for a copy.)

MyNewtBoobs's avatar

I think the way to go, personally, is to buy all the toys – male, female, and unisex. Then let the children decide what to play with (and don’t necessarily throw out the opposite gender toys if you don’t see them playing with them, because they often do if they think no one can see them.) That way, you aren’t saying something is wrong with being feminine, but that you also don’t have to be feminine, and it’s not your only choice, and vice versa.

Plucky's avatar

I just read “What’s Wrong With Cinderella?” ....very good read :)

MyNewtBoobs's avatar

@PluckyDog I was really surprised at how much of a cord it struck with me, as I have no children nor want them. But my mother was (and is) very much into girly-girl things for me; I had brides dresses and fake makeup and a play washing machine, but not a tonka truck or water gun in sight. The only really neutral toys were books, and even then, there was an emphasis on books like Little Women instead of Lord of the Flies. Part of the problem was that I felt there was no room to occasionally be masculine or even just apathetic. I’m not a tomboy by any means, but I also don’t spend tons of time on hair and makeup (although I know how to do it all). I don’t wear shoes that are uncomfortable, even once. I don’t enjoy spending hours getting ready for a big night out (luckily, I’ve perfected doing it all really fast). I came home once when I was 13, all upset because another girl had teased me because I had hair on my upper lip. As a result, my mother started getting me waxed – lip and eyebrows, every 2 weeks – and shelled out for laser hair removal years later. I’d kinda moved on by then, but it was a really big deal to her. To this day, she routinely insists that she give me some cash so I can get my eyebrows waxed (which I HATE, because it hurts so badly, and I’m confused as to why I can’t just use a razor to do some basic trimming). She sees herself as a feminist, but I’ve never known someone to be so dedicated to the Stepford lifestyle as she is.

ANef_is_Enuf's avatar

@MyNewtBoobs I really enjoyed that article, and it actually reinforced a lot of what I was already feeling. Thanks for posting.

MyNewtBoobs's avatar

@ANef_is_Enuf Sure thing. I think you can read 2 or 3 chapters of the book on Google Books, too, before it gets all “no more, biatch!”

rooeytoo's avatar

That’s an interesting article. I liked at the end the kid said she still wanted to be a fireman. I think that little girls don’t have a choice, I assume boys don’t either, but that just isn’t as important to me. They are bombarded from the second they are aware with the stereotypical image of femaleness. From commercials for new cars that show little boys pretend driving and little girls in the back seat, to the toys as mentioned in the article to here on Fluther where a noted flutherite insisted that it is not normal for a girl to want to be a race car driver, they are brainwashed! Even LL Bean has succumbed, the kids catalogue arrived today and the girls clothes are pink and purple and full of butterflies and flowers, the boys are khaki and navy and have graphics with fish and boats. If I had a daughter I would be buying khaki and blue and hope she grows up to be a strong and brave and intelligent human being no matter what colors she chooses to wear.

And to answer the question, I would not solely have gender specific toys, I would have a doll that looks like a baby not a midget sex symbol, lego type building toys, no guns or pink princess stuff!

Ajulutsikael's avatar

I don’t buy gender specific toys and never have. I buy whatever my kids seem to gravitate towards. I bought my daughter a kitchen set when she was younger because she loved being in the kitchen and pretending to wash dishes. Well after a while my son started paying it more attention than she did. My daughter is a bit of a tom boy, but she does have her girly side.

My son loves playing with her purses and he loves walking in heels, both her toy heels as well as ones that belong to the adult females in the house. In fact, he does a better job walking in them than I do. I don’t care what he plays with as long as he plays. He also loves trucks and techie things.

creative1's avatar

Nope I just bought my daughter a black and decker play work bench as one of her birthday presents, she loved it when we gave it as a gift to one of her friends so I went back and got one to give her as part of her birthday present. She also got the bike and puzzles she asked for. Kids use their imagination when playing they can take a simple plastic cup and make it anything. So let them play with what they want and become whom they want, its not going to change or make them want to be the other gender just because of a toy.

ShanEnri's avatar

When my son was 2 he carried around an Urkel (sp?) doll. You know Urkel from Family Matters…anyway he’s 16 now and wants to be in the Navy. My daughter played with cars and barbies and she’s an artist. She hated pink because it was to stereo-typical for her and she thought conformity was over rated! I don’t think gender specific toys are for the kids but more for the parents peace of mind.

creative1's avatar

@ShanEnri same hereā€¦... I loved to play with trucks over dolls smaller versions of my brothers big tonka trucks. I would play for hours in the dirt and sand, I am very much a woman now.

BarnacleBill's avatar

My daughters had legos, blocks, model cars and trucks, American Girl dolls, dress-up clothes for both genders, science kits, outdoor things like balls, jump ropes, etc,, stuff to play house, baby dolls, stuffed animals and tons of art supplies. When the boy next door came over, they would either build with legos, play house and he would “cook” and watch “the baby” so my daughter could go to work, or they would use the stuffed animals and pretend they were animals.

I’ve tried buying my nieces gender-neutral toys, and they will have none of it. I think some of it has to do with the amount of television they watch and the amount of “mess” they’re allowed to make. We had whole cities of buildings made out of cereal boxes, with construction paper trees and roads, that the matchbox cars were needed for; my SIL doesn’t like to save empty boxes or extra papers, so the kids can’t make stuff like that.

Seelix's avatar

I don’t believe in the idea of only buying a girl “girl toys” or only buying a boy “boy toys”. Kids should be able to play with whatever kind of toys they want.

That said, I think a lot of it has to do with kids seeing what toys their friends have and what toys are marketed to them. I’d wager that most little girls want to have the princess toys, and most little boys want to have the trucks and tools. But that’s not to say that they shouldn’t have “gender neutral” toys or toys marketed to the opposite gender made available to them.

I grew up with an older sister and only female cousins—in fact, aside from school, there weren’t many boys around for me to play with, even in my neighbourhood. But I still had He-man and Ninja Turtles to go along with my Barbies and My Little Ponies.

Best solution for someone looking to buy a gift for a child but who doesn’t want to follow gender stereotypes: books. Kids don’t read enough.

gm_pansa1's avatar

I’ve never given this any thought. I follow the “whatever” philosophy in life.

aprilsimnel's avatar

Let the kid have whatever toys they want. I had all kinds of toys, but I leaned towards the science-y things.

marinelife's avatar

I had friends who were both PHDs, and the husband had experience with children’s education television.

They decided that they would be gender neutral with their children’s toys. They were surprised when their daughter put blocks in a bowl and “served” it to her father as “soup”, and their son pretended that a box was a truck.

MissAusten's avatar

Honestly, I don’t think it matters unless the parents make it an issue. Generally speaking, boys and girls have different play styles and interests. Boys and girls are wired differently, which is part of what makes the whole reproduction thing work. I don’t think it matters if girls like girly things or boys like boyish things as long as those things aren’t pushed on kids or denied to kids. In other words, I think parents should relax. It’s a hard enough job without even making PLAYING an issue, for crying out loud!

Ideally, each kid should have a variety of types of toys to play with, especially toys that allow for imaginative or creative play. Whether or not those toys have been associated with a specific gender in the past shouldn’t matter at all.

incendiary_dan's avatar

No, the idea of gender-specific toys, and the idea of gender itself, is fairly inhibiting in terms of psycho-social development.

Joker94's avatar

No. If anyone should decide, it’s the child. I played with whatever I wanted. Did that mean mostly directing reenactments of Star Wars scenes with action figures? Yes. Did that mean I was above ransacking Barbie’s dream house? Certainly not.

Pied_Pfeffer's avatar

From what I’ve witnessed, it seems pointless to do so. Kids play with whatever toys interest them. Why attempt to change that?

ddude1116's avatar

I think we should bridge the gender gap, not build a wall between them. Having some gender specific toys Is alright, having only gender specific toys is not.

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john65pennington's avatar

Girls play with dolls and boys play with Mack Trucks.

keobooks's avatar

I think girls have it fairly easy in the toy and clothes department. Nobody bats an eye when they see a girl playing with trucks and being a tomboy, but MANY people have hissy fits when they see boys playing with girly stuff.

I frequently shop at Goodwill for my daughter’s clothes. I’m so cheap that I almost exclusively get the clothes out of the 50% off section there. The good news is that I get amazingly cute onesies and things for less than a dollar. The “bad” news is that she has lots of little boy outfits. She doesn’t care what she wears, and if it’s too over the top “butch” I can just put a blue bow on her head and people assume it’s a little girl outfit. I had a mom jealous of the adorable girly outfits that my daughter wears and I was like.. psst these are boy clothes!

Nobody cares about that, but I’ve heard sets of grandparents act like they were going to call CPS because their daughters in law put a pink bib or sock on the BOY.

Simone_De_Beauvoir's avatar

I believe parents need to provide all kinds of toys for their children so my answer is a resounding no to your question. Gender-neutral toys are my favorite.

iamthemob's avatar

No.

It’s play. Let them choose their own toys.

downtide's avatar

I think restricting a child to gender-neutral toys is just as silly as restricting them to toys of only their own gender. I say let them have toys from either gender, or none.

6rant6's avatar

My son did not see any TV in our house before he turned 5. By that time he was reading chapter books.

We were both of the non-violent persuasion, so there were no guns or whatever around the house. But that didn’t stop him from picking up sticks and going “pkew pkew!”

When he could choose books, he got into mythology and then ancient battles. In grade school, he disrupted classes by constructing ballistas out of pencils and rubber bands.

As an adult, he plays roleplaying games – where someone is always trying to kill someone. None of this seems to have done him any harm. After about the age of eight, I never saw him do anything to inflict pain or suffering on any human or animal (except his sister!) As an adult, I have never seen him act out in anger, even to raise his voice. So it doesn’t seem tht his play habits and early interests did him any harm.

My daughter, given a freer reign, choose furry things – mostly bunnies to spend her time on. That seem girlie? I certainly think “nurturing” is more associated with feminine than masculine.

So my thought: you can’t keep things from them. It just doesn’t work. But provide variety so they can make some choices. And it’s okay to say, “I don’t like guns,” or “Your Barbie looks like a whore”~

Simone_De_Beauvoir's avatar

@6rant6 Yeah, I really wouldn’t say that last thing.

Plucky's avatar

Wow, thank you everyone for posting your thoughts :)

Assassin_15's avatar

No; Girls and boys should have the option to play with whatever they wish. I actually think that boys playing with dolls or girls playing with trucks is part of healthy development and should be encouraged, just to widen their options a little bit.

Plucky's avatar

I come from a family of 3 kids. I am the middle child. It’s odd because my older brother was very “boy” and my younger sister was very “girl” ..I ended up being in the middle, lol.

I played with action figures, built forts around our farm, played with toy guns, had a mini-dirtbike and bmx, got dirty, etc. But I also played with stuffies, barbie dolls, cabbage patch dolls, played house with my sister, etc. I was very tomboy and never liked the colour pink or dresses or anything frilly. In fact, my dad almost always treated me like a boy until I hit puberty. As kids, my brother and sister were always fighting and I always seemed to be in the middle ..lol.
I remember doing things, though, because it was expected of me by society. Things like getting my ears pierced, getting a perm and learning to style my hair, changing my style of clothing, etc ..just to fit in at school. I went to a small town country school. Not until I was about 16, did I find my own style again and not give a damn what others thought (by then, I had long left that town).

As an adult, I’m still pretty much middle or neutral. I’m not sure if it had to do with being the middle child, nature, or nurture ..or all of the above. My brother is very masculine and my sister is very feminine.

I am disgusted by toys like the trashy Bratz dolls and clothing that makes little girls look like tiny prostitutes. Likewise, with boy toys that are all about being number one and studly.

I think gender-neutral is the way to go. Sadly, society (more so, toy and clothing corporations) still has long way to go before kids won’t feel as pressured to pick certain toys and colours.

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Plucky's avatar

@noelleptc Omg ..lol. That’s hilarious.

YARNLADY's avatar

Don’t walk into a ToysRUs store. there is a Boys side and a Girls side. When we went in last week, I wanted to walk straight to the back for a ‘baby’ toy. My four year old said “OH NO, grandma, we can’t walk down the GIRLS side, we’re boys.

He doesn’t know that playing dress up (animal costumes) and pretending to shop and cook is girls’s play, yet. He loves to make pretend meals and serve them.

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Pied_Pfeffer's avatar

@noelleptc Wow, is that true? You would know better than I would. From the commercials I’ve seen, they look pretty gender-generic these days, including the marketing. I just did a search on the Toys R Us site, and the toy kitchens, other than a few pink ones, have come a long way since my youth. Back then, the only thing that existed was a Suzy Homemaker Easy Bake Oven. Just watch one of the Suzy Homemaker commericals from my youth. :)

Plucky's avatar

@Pied_Pfeffer I have no doubt in my mind that society has come a long way from the Suzy Homemaker days ..I just think we should be further than we are I guess :)

In saying that, after watching that old commercial you posted, I’m grateful for the social evolving we’ve done since.

Pied_Pfeffer's avatar

@PluckyDog Exactly. We have moved forward.

But even way back in the ‘60s, I don’t recall any parent getting upset with or being concerned when their kids played with certain toys. Maybe it was because we really weren’t supervised back then. Most of my female friends had male brothers, either younger or older, so there was always a mix of gender-specific toys about. As long as we all played nicely with each other, no adult made a fuss.

Maybe it was done behind the scenes. All I know is that none of the boys ever told us that “Girls don’t play with trucks or guns” or “Boys don’t play dress-up or with dolls,” and it was the same for we girls.

And yes, there are still toys on the market that are very gender-specific. I’d be curious to know who is purchasing them and for whom. I’d also find it interesting to see a timeline of toy fads. There seems to be a new one every year. Would it show any movement towards gender-generic toys?

MyNewtBoobs's avatar

@noelleptc Cooking for a man – casseroles, stews, steak and potatoes – that’s a woman’s job. It’s only when it’s really good, skilled, gourmet cooking that a woman couldn’t possibly handle it and the men must save the day.

everephebe's avatar

@MyNewtBoobs I think I hear some sarcasm dripping off of each one of those words. Could just be my imagination.^

MyNewtBoobs's avatar

@everephebe Not sarcasm so much as intense judgment and hatred. And yeah, ok, some sarcasm.

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