Do you think it is natural for boys and girls to use different kinds of toys?

Do toy ads (and how toys are marketed) reinforce gender stereotyping?
A reader would love to get feedback on this for her research. What do you think?
‘Moon Sand’ is a mouldable play sand (or clay) for kids to play with.  Take a look at how the same product is sold to boys and to girls.
1)
Synopsis:
Moon Sand™ is the amazing moldable, holdable, decoratable sand the never dries out!
Now you can create and explore your very own undersea world complete with amazing sea life creations and beautiful mermaid princess!
Use the glitter sand to mold Moon Sand™ sea horses, dolphins, and undersea friends for your Mermaid Princess to go on undersea adventures with!
2)
Synopsis:
Moon Sand™ is the amazing moldable, squish-able, build-able, demolish-able sand the never dries out!
The new Moon Sand™ Construction Sets each come with a rough and tumble construction worker, who’s built tough and ready for work!
Load your construction worker into the backhoe- then dig and demolish EVERYWHERE!
-To what extent do you think this can be a factor that leads to gender stereotyping in children?
-Do you think it is natural for boys and girls to use different kinds of toys?
– How much difference is made by the media and parenting styles and the society, peer group etc?
       ***

Does the society benefit from dividing the population into predefined sets of decorat-able and demolish-able?

In this delightful diary of a spunky 12 year Indian girl (by Soumya Rajendran & Niveditha Subramaniam) Mayil has similar and many more questions. I couriered it to my eleven year old niece with the hope that she sees the freedom in knowing it’s okay to be herself and in that she doesn’t need to be anybody else or fit into anybody’s idea of what a young girl (or boy) should be like.🙂

Will update this pic soon!!

31 thoughts on “Do you think it is natural for boys and girls to use different kinds of toys?

  1. It is an awkward time in history as far as gender roles and children are concerned. on one hand we are discovering that gender specidif behavior begins very early in a childs life, irrespective of the environment, we are also realizing that imposing narrow constraints of specific gender roles might be harmful for children.

    Theoratically, it makes sense for boys and girls to have different types of toys, boys and girls are different, lets not deny that. But should a gilr only play with pink fluffy things and a boy with blue rough and tough? probably not, but the jury is out on that.

    One thing, thoug is for sure, idealized teaching about body image and gender roles are no good. Barbies, therefore, are a no-no, pink playdough is a matter of choice.

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  2. I find this so so annoying, IHM! You know, here everything is colour coded – it drives me mad! I had a tough time finding a colour neutral lego set for daughter(found a green and yellow one after lots of searching). They make pink ones for girls and blue ones for boys! Why? And as you say, for the boys it’s all about construction and dinosaurs , while for girls it is all about princesses and mermaids! I wish people realized plenty of girls like building and construction and dinosaurs, just as lots of boys might be happier playing with dolls – if only they were allowed to.

    I have seen mothers discouraging boys from playing with dolls or anything pink! I hate the fact that so many of daughters clothes, toys are pink – despite my efforts to avoid them – there is only so much you can do when literally everything is colour coded and marketed with a gender bias.

    Even worse, I feel, is gender biased footwear, when parents(aided by the media imaging, and their own cultural bias), think nothing of buying shoes with heels for little girls, ensuring that they will never run and frolic, like little boys with comfortable shoes and clothing will.

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    • I was at a mall recently and I saw a sign over the girls’ clothing section that said, “The season’s hottest colours. And of course, pink” Why of course pink? Can’t a little girl get by with green, orange, red, yellow, and maybe even blue? And this is in India.

      I honestly think we’re regressing. When I wanted to buy baby clothes for my friend’s baby in the US, I couldn’t even find anything gender neutral. The saleswoman just gave up and said, “If they haven’t found out what they’re having, everyone’s going to have a tough time finding presents.”. I said, “They know they’re having a baby. Shouldn’t that be all that counts?’

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  3. I don’t think it’s natural for girls and boys to play with different toys. I mean it’s not necessary that a boy can only like trucks and cars and action figures and girls only like dolls and kitchen sets. When I was a child, I loved dolls and kitchen sets, I would keep requesting my mother to make new clothes for my dolls and I will make little chapatis on my little rolling board with little rolling pin but my younger sister never played with dolls, she played with racing cars and doctor sets and lego and those mechanical toys sets. And the youngest kid in the family, my cousin who is 7, likes kitchen sets, when he was 3, he had a doll whom he pretended to be his child, and still he likes to watch Ben10 and other action heroes.
    How do we expect kids, whether they are boys or girls, not to like different toys when we only buy different toys for them? It’s not natural, it’s all the result of conditioning. We condition our kids to like certain type of toys what we, are conditioned to think that are appropriate for their gender, just the way we were conditioned when we were kids.
    When we only give ‘gender specific’ toys to a kid and never buy toys that are supposed to be specific of other sex, how can we claim that the kid doesn’t like them, if we had bought the toys, the kid might actually had liked them, may be even better than the ones that were bought for him/her.

    The other day I was bored and looking for a site to play some online video games. I came across a site, the games were divided into different categories, like Board games, Racing games, Action games etc. There was another category called girl games. The games included were like :
    Celebrity Make-up
    Dress-up Games
    Hair Styling Games
    Horse Dress-up
    Love Games
    Make Over Games
    Make-up Games
    Nail Studio Games
    Room Decoration
    Sue Games
    Wedding Games

    Yup. I played one of them, the nail studio one, all one has to do here is to keep applying the nail polish to the virtual hands and putting matching rings and bracelets on fingers and wrists. That’s all. Some major stereotyping here I say.

    And yes, Mayil is one rockstar child, I bought the book to gift to someone. I read it and kept it in my bookshelf.😀 So what it’s for kids, adults can read it too, isn’t it?

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  4. hi IHM… i have a 5 yr old daughter and a 2 yr old son… i do see a lot of differences in the way the daughter and son play… there are lots of dolls in the house coz of the elder one and she loves playing with them… but my son wouldnt touch any of them and if he gets nothing else to play with he would take the dolls and break the hands/legs/head and would try throwing them like a ball.. he plays with cars, balls but doesnt know to handle soft toys/kitchen sets…. there are differences between boys and girls…and so what with they use marketing targeting at these differences…

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  5. A friend of mine was very upset because her 1 year old son was more interested in playing and banging utensils rather than playing with the trucks and cars that she bought for him.
    Reason: She was afraid he would be considered or God Forbid! become effeminate.
    Effeminate! at 1?
    It just made me sad to hear an otherwise modern-thinking lady spout things like this that I didn’t even want to argue.

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  6. This is really not something I’m qualified to comment on.

    I will only offer my personal experience:

    When I was a kid, I played with toys that would be considered boyish (action figures, trucks, cars, planes, toy guns).
    By the time I was in my early teens, I had zero interest in any of the above, and had already begun to gravitate towards art, literature and the like. I have never been attracted to hard sciences, and my core interests as well as core strengths have always been humanities, and “soft” subjects. I was never the best math student in the world, and chemistry was beyond me, but I could usually be relied upon to deliver a good speech, or represent my house well in a debate.

    When my elder sister was a kid, she played with dolls. She was my parents’ first child and they, along with other relatives, showered her with “girly” toys, such as dolls, kitchen sets and teddy bears. Her bedroom as well as her playroom was painted pink. My mother personally oversaw the decoration of the room in accordance with the best fashions of the day. All the relevant stereotypes were presumably fed.

    By the time she was in her early teens, she’d already given away her enormous collection of dolls to our younger sister, who seemed to enjoy them far more than she ever did.

    Today, she has a successful career in a traditionally male-dominated field, drives a Chevrolet SUV marketed as “manly”, has short hair, and is less traditionally feminine in her personal preferences than most other women in my life (like my younger sister, mother, even wife).

    Kids rarely grow up to match stereotypes. If I were given a choice (without any cultural balderdash) to play with dolls, I might actually have been interested. Who knows?

    Boys and girls may be different but what is more important is that INDIVIDUALS are different. A boy and a girl may have a lot more in common with each other than they do with other members of their own sex. Let’s not codify behaviors. Let children play with whatever they find fun, and let them be themselves.

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    • I am me I think.. When i had come to uk, I joined a hockey club and was amazed at my friends looking down upon me , as hockey here in uk seems to be a LADIES game while back in india it was a manly game ..

      being natural well I doubt it is as kids pick up from parents nad majority of the parents teach them like that, I mean I have seen mothers teasing their male child with the color pink and all that so its the mentality of parents that need changing first..

      I do wear a pink shirt and I dont find anything funny, but in india i was asked a lot of questions why i wore a pink shirt..🙂

      more then kids i think parents need to GROW UP🙂 if you know what i mean .. children pick up from the elders , they are the first teachers a child has …

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  7. I think both boys and girls should be introduced to all types of toys and then they make their choice as individuals and not as ‘boy’ or ‘girl’!
    Coincidentally I just finished reading Mayil will not be quiet! Amazing book! Must read for all parents too.
    It makes for an amazing read aloud with children too!

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  8. I just wanted to add that “gender-appropriate” toy branding is not only a curse of developing countries. “Pink vs blue” is so popular in the US (e.g.) that it makes people gag.

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  9. Hi,
    I’m not a frequent commenter but I read your blog every single day.
    I have a 2 year old daughter and I would like to think that i have never reinforced any stereotypes with her. My husband helps out with household chores, he cooks, cleans etc, so she has never seen these as things to be seen by amma/appa. Except when she would rather have the company of her amma/appa and so wants the other one to do the chores.

    But still, she never plays with trucks, cars, trains, action figures etc the way I have seen other boys her age do. When she plays with trucks and cars, it’s to line them up as amma, appa and baby trucks, take the baby truck to hospital, school etc. She loves playing with her kitchen set, puzzles, blocks and stacking toys as well although with the blocks and stacking toys, she is still more liable to use them as dolls or rather as pretend play figures in some imaginative game.

    I am still not sure that this has to do with her gender rather than with being who she is. But that said, she does all the typically ‘girly’ things and loves to do them. I don’t want to discourage her from doing them just because these things are seen as girly because what is wrong with the girly things anyway? I just see to it that she has room and access to more typically boyish toys as well and leave her free to choose.

    She loves the color Blue though not Pink🙂

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  10. It is strange what society’s expectations can do to you and it needn’t even be something that has been going on for “thousands” of years.

    I don’t remember there being a “pink for girls and blue for boys” thing when I was in school. The things that I remember playing with were rattles, plastic baskets, reed baskets, guns(!), mini cooking sets, things crafted by my aunts (rag dolls, crochet dresses) and uncles (coconut leaf figures, slings with baby coconuts), crayons, dolls, clay, coconut shells, sea shells, swords, old saris… but none of them were pink. I played and exchanged toys with my boy cousins and there never was any problem. I remember exchanging an old torn sari (great for a hammock) once for a wooden sword with a cousin.

    When did this pink/blue distinction come to India? Is it so easy to change the way whole societies think? Shouldn’t we be using this power for a better purpose?

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    • I think the pink/blue distinction came from the west (if I am not wrong). It has been there in the west for quite sometime. I once carried a pink folder and my friend asked me if I picked up someone else’s folder by mistake! If you go to a toy shop, there is a clear demarcation for boys and girls! When I once went to a toy shop to buy a gift for a baby shower (the child wasn’t born yet) and asked the store-keeper for a doll, she asked me if it was a boy or a girl! I quietly bought a gift card…

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  11. When my boys were growing up, i dabbled in craft and guess the easiest stuffed toys to make, bears and dolls – so that’s what they got, of course bears got pants and dolls’s skirts were made into divided skirts/pants by my boys and used in army shootouts .

    they also got a looooot of toys like clay, trucks etc., and they loved those the best. my soon to leave home teens still have action figure soldiers in formation with tanks and planes.. any time i suggested donating toys to make place for new ( right before their b’day) the would gladly lose the girl toys- handmade by mom rather than part with a plastic action figure.
    I don’t think we reinforced any great gender stereotype – if anyhting i was the spoiled queen in a all testostrone household. but they get influenced by peers, environement, social cond etc., i don’t think think enought to want to fight the world for their ideals. they are more go with the flow kind. as they grow older they are ready to lead rather than follow their peers like a bunch of demented sheep .

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  12. This is an area where I’ve done quite a bit of reading on. While individual boys and girls will always have personal preferences that break stereotypes, studies have hinted that toy-preferences among boys and girls are not driven purely by sociological context as some people believe. Young boys are psychologically driven towards certain toys (like cars, guns, etc.) and young girls are similarly attracted to a different set of toys. This has been observed to be independent of race. Or even species, because tests have been conducted on baby monkeys and they showed the same gender differences too when provided with stereotyped toys.

    As for color coding in the west – pink vs blue, it’s mostly tradition/historical/cultural and immigrants (and some non-immigrant feminists) cringe at it. My take on that is it’s just good fun, and a lot of parents love to dress up their daughters in pink and call them princess.

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    • Nish don’t you think the colour-coding and gender-coding is done as a marketing strategy? Most ideas become more powerful when they appear harmless, because then one doesn’t think of questioning them.

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    • individual boys and girls will always have personal preferences

      That really is all there is to it. No qualifiers are necessary

      Sociological studies may be important to marketers, but they really should not influence parenting decisions at all.

      Treating people based on some statistical study is one mistake I’ve learned never to make; it can put you into deep trouble when you are dealing with adults. I’d say that the same applies to children. Every child is different, and every child’s individual needs should be taken into account by parents.

      In any case, I’m not sure there is anything like a consensus on the nature vs nurture issue.
      The question is as old as psychology itself and is no longer couched in terms of whether it is one or the other. It’s more about “how much of nature vs how much of nurture”.

      And from a non-academic, non-professional point of view, it really is rather irrelevant. We cannot control genetic factors yet. Let’s control what we can control.

      Let’s just focus on providing equal opportunities to people. What they choose should be of no direct consequence. It may make for an interesting research paper, but it should not influence our commitment to providing equality of opportunity at all. It should not influence our commitment to robustly challenging stereotypes and attitudes which threaten that equality. And most of all, it should not influence our commitment to providing a healthy environment to our children, an environment where they can be what THEY want to be, not what society wants them to become.

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  13. Hi IHM,

    This a big pet peeve of mine. We live in the US and my son is 3.
    It is so true that there are two separate toy aisles for boys and girls in most shops with the same kind of Cinderella, princess nonsense for girls and cars and trucks for boys. Even toothbrushes for kids have these two categories.
    I recommend people read this book called ” Cinderella ate my daughter”. Gives us a good insight into this phenom(escp in the US).
    We have been giving my son lots of gender neutral things(puzzles, jigsaws, books, abacus) as well as cars and trucks(mainly gifts from others).He also has a doll house( hand me down from a friend)which he plays with. He is not very fond of dolls though and we do not force it on him.
    He uses the doll house to pretend play which is very cute and gives us an insight into what he is thinking. he also has a cooking set he cooks with and we’ve been very very conscious of not playing stereotypical roles in our real lives as well.

    In my opinion, children learn very early from their parents on gender roles. So, if we (both parents) demonstrate that both of us can do everything around the house , this will influnece them.

    Also, we have NO TV in the house. This helps big time because my son is totally unaware of disney, elmo( which I find very irritating) etc and is forced to play by himself and daydream or hang out with us and do something around the kitchen while we cook and clean in the evenings

    Sorry about the long comment!

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  14. Did you know that pink was a ‘boy’ colour in 1918? http://www.smithsonianmag.com/arts-culture/When-Did-Girls-Start-Wearing-Pink.html

    Goes to show it isn’t colour but the people around who make the difference. That this toy is mouldable, non-drying, ‘clean’ sand is enough of a draw for parents and kids alike.

    Just because kids play differently (and they go, there are gender differences even when they see role models doing tasks gender insensitively, when there are all kinds of toys around and positive reinforcement for picking up toys they normally might not!), marketing doesn’t have to sell to assumed gender differences.

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  15. The flash player seems to be having some issues on my office laptop, so cant see the videos😦
    But I do agree that the moment kids are born there is a division based on color (to start with). Then it continues to toys, what games must you participate in and so on.
    Over here most of the toy/baby clothes shops seem to be color coded. There is a very clear demarcation where one side has blue stuff and the other has glittery pink stuff. Even the toys are color coded! with the boys’ section having all blue, brown, gray colored trucks, cars, and Ji joes and superheroes. And the girls’ side is flooded with dolls, princesses, build-your-home sets, doll-houses and the like. It just drives me mad seeing this difference. There is absolutely no harm in either kid playing with anything, but it is just the bias that we create the moment they are born that drives me mad. I think it is because of this that we call blue and pink gender biased colors, whereas they are just colors. I wouldnt mind if tomorrow my daughter/son chooses to wear pink, its just that I will make sure I dont force any color or particular type of toy on them!

    I dont have kids yet, so not sure how kids generally chose toys, but I had asked my mom sometime back on how she would select toys for us and she said that she would just let us lose in the shop and whatever we grabbed she used to buy that. And it is strange because I dont remember ever playing with dolls when I was a kid. So I dont think girls ‘naturally’ like dolls argument is necessarily true. (I cant come to this conclusion based on just what I used to do!). Same with my sister. She used to love cars as a kid! When I go through my childhood toys now, I see only one barbie doll (which I found out someone had gifted me). Most of it comprises of building blocks, beads and cars (Cars belonging to sister. I never cared about them much!). I have so many lego sets and building blocks from childhood that I still pull them out to play when I visit india. Erm, sorry..getting carried here. But you get the point !

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  16. Pingback: 27 ways in which Patriarchy harms men. | The Life and Times of an Indian Homemaker

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