There has been a lot of talk in the media this week about gender equality and children.  There was the picture that went viral of the little girl looking very unhappy next to a supermarket sign about toys for boys.  And in the same week Ladybird announced they will no longer be publishing books under gender specific titles such as ‘fairy tales for girls’.

Karen Colebooks

I think there’s a lot of truth in the expression ‘girls will be girls and boys will be boys’.  I have dined on many make-believe sandwiches and cups of tea from my sons kitchen.  I have watched my son play for hours on end with Woody and Jessie from Toy Story, and what are they if they are not dolls?  Yet that very same boy refuses point-blank to wear one of his T-shirts because it pink.  And despite the fact I will not allow toy guns in the house he will use other toys as guns whilst he runs round shooting bad guys in his make-believe world.

Is gender inequality taught through the toys that we give our children to play with, or the messages we are giving them? Boys and girls alike should be told they are clever, beautiful and strong.  We should be teaching our children self-confidence and self-awareness, so when they are older they will know that beauty is more than what a Barbie doll portrays, and strength is more than just what Action Man can do.  We should teach them that they can be whatever they want to be no matter if they are a girl or a boy.

Have you heard a boy being told “don’t be such a girl” if he cries after a fall?  It’s a phrase I have heard too often.  What is that phrase teaching children about girls?  That they are weak?  That it is bad to be a girl?  That boys are better than girls? What is it saying about boys?  They must always be tough?  Being brave means showing no emotion?  This is everyday language that is creating gender inequality.  Are our children being taught that for a woman to be successful she must be pretty?  Are they being taught that for a man to be strong he must show no sign of weakness?

Girls and boys are different.  As a mum of two boys I experience every day how they are just wired differently to me.  They think farts are funny, they are fascinated by bodily functions, they make friends by making fun of one another, they cannot possibly sit still for more than 5 seconds, and they hate the colour pink.  But it’s OK for girls and boys to be different.  It’s OK if girls want to play with dolls and boys want to play with cars. Even within our own gender groups we are different.  Some boys like cars, others like dinosaurs and others like football.

The danger is when we don’t respect each others differences.  When we think we are better than someone else because we are different to them.  That’s what creates inequality.  Our children should be allowed to be who they want to be and taught that we are all equal.  If your little girl has asked for an Elsa doll this Christmas it’s probably because she is pretty and sparkly and most little girls like pretty and sparkly things. I know a lot of women that like pretty and sparkly thing too, myself included.  As far as ‘girl power’ goes Elsa and Ana are pretty good role models.  But is it a problem if the child asking for an Elsa doll this Christmas is a boy?  Or is the problem in the message we are giving that little boy if we say “no, it’s for girls”?

girls and boys

11 Comments on Is gender inequality learnt through toys?

  1. Clare Bailey ( Bailey's Blog)
    September 11, 2016 at 10:11 pm (2 months ago)

    Really good points made here. Language and attitude is massively important. Some parents find this very difficult e.g. boys wearing dresses.
    Clare Bailey ( Bailey’s Blog) recently posted…The Bailey House RulesMy Profile

  2. Helen - mess stress and fancy dress
    April 30, 2016 at 8:28 am (6 months ago)

    Really interesting. I have real issues with telling forthright daughters that they are bossy. This is easily harnessed into a useful skill if you manage people. And we never call boys bossy. I had a similar conversation at work recently – I work with all men – and came off sounding like Germain Greer, but I really think we are absolutely ingrainimg the idea that women are second class in our littlies.
    Helen – mess stress and fancy dress recently posted…Things my children never need to knowMy Profile

  3. Tori Gabriel
    April 5, 2016 at 10:34 am (7 months ago)

    Brilliant post (as always). I like the fact people are becoming more aware that toys are toys and should be for whatever gender. I really struggled this Christmas as my daughter’s one request was a Thomas the Tank Engine dress. Such a thing doesn’t seem to exist (and if it does you can bet it won’t have actual Thomas on it but one of the girl trains). Luckily my Sister In Law is crafty!

  4. Mrs Mum nz
    October 29, 2015 at 4:46 am (1 year ago)

    This provokes some great thinking!
    I have a son (13 months) and I’m desperately trying not to favour ‘boys’ toys. We visit the toy library every fortnight and I’m pretty proud that this week we bought home a kitchen set. He loves opening and closing all the doors. It is hard though when shops sell distinctly boys/girls, blue/pink toys. But I have no trouble with him pushing around a pink pushchair, if he wants to.
    Mrs Mum nz recently posted…10 Top Tips to survive the first year of MotherhoodMy Profile

    • Life Love and Dirty Dishes
      October 29, 2015 at 8:50 am (1 year ago)

      My little one loves peppa pig. Relatives have refused to buy him toys because they are pink. They are pigs, of course they are pink! I think it’s worse now I have 2 boys.

  5. Carry On Katy
    May 29, 2015 at 7:48 pm (1 year ago)

    Great post
    I have painted my son’s toe nails as he wanted me to. He also got a Frozen figurine set for Christmas and a kitchen plus a lot of cars and things that fart.
    Recently he came home from school and said that I wasn’t allowed to help him get dressed as I was a ‘girl’. So his Dad had to do it. He said he isn’t supposed to play with girls at school….only boys because he is a boy.

    At the age of 5 it’s rather sad. We can do our best at home but our kids are hugely effected by other’s when they’re not with us.
    I’m still going to paint his nails if he wants me to and navigate thunderbird 3 as required. It’s all we can do xx
    Carry On Katy recently posted…How To Marry A Millionaire.My Profile

    • Claire
      May 30, 2015 at 9:35 pm (1 year ago)

      The big one is a huge One Direction fan at the moment (because – in his words – there are no girls!) A relative commented on how he shouldn’t like a boyband!
      It’s music and he is five!!!!!

  6. gluestickmum
    November 27, 2014 at 10:15 pm (2 years ago)

    It’s a tough one, isn’t it? Are the toys differentiated because it’s how society perceives things to be? Or is it because it’s because boys and girls are different and why fight it? But then, do boys and girls like different things because they are socialised as such? Who knows?
    BUT I think you’re right that it doesn’t matter either way really until judgments of one thing being better comes into play and that’s what really needs changing.

    • Lifeloveanddirtydishes
      November 28, 2014 at 11:19 am (2 years ago)

      Thank-you that was put far more eloquently than me. 🙂 I just think we are quick to lay blame at the manufacturers and marketing companies, when if there is a problem maybe it is our own attitudes we should be looking at.

  7. mummyofboygirltwins
    November 27, 2014 at 9:19 pm (2 years ago)

    I have twins – a boy and a girl, both two. I’ve brought them up the same. However he loves cars, he loves being on the floor watching the wheels. She doesn’t and yet they’re left lying around. But he likes pushing the toy pram and she likes the train set so who knows!!!! I’m up for them playing with anything! Great post Jess xx

    • Lifeloveanddirtydishes
      November 27, 2014 at 9:27 pm (2 years ago)

      Thanks Jess. I think kids will just like what they like. My eldest has always been car crazy. You can put a selection of toys in front of him and he will always go for the cars.


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