Why should boys get to take it to the max while girls are left with pink play sets?
Parents: if you want to curtail your daughter’s ambitions, limit her imagination, and stymie the development of her analytical skills, I suggest you take her toy shopping.
In a retailer near you, the annual festive bonanza of gender-based stereotyping should by now be in full swing. In store, on TV and in catalogues, little girls are getting their annual reminder about what they’re “good” at. And that’s wearing pretty dresses, minding babies, sticking glitter on things, and staring at themselves in a four-foot vanity mirror.
Boys, meanwhile, are being reminded that they can be superheroes, pirates, firemen or footballers – anything as long as they’re loud, competitive and aggressive about it. (So, if you want to curtail your son’s opportunities to be creative, develop social skills or learn how to operate a hoover, best bring him along, too.)
So why do we put up with this yearly onslaught of gender-based stereotyping directed at impressionable kids? Well because, as argued by many retailers and parents, it’s what they want.
Girls, they insist, seem genetically programmed to love pink. They like being princesses, just as boys want to be pirates.
To an extent that might be true, but it’s hardly the whole picture.
If my six-year-old daughter is representative, it seems girls also like building Lego, studying insects and playing with train sets.
Little boys, including my almost-five-year-old, love aliens, cars, dinosaurs and robots – and anything that can conceivably be repurposed as a weapon. But they also like playing with kitchens and Barbies, and they sometimes take their Power Rangers to bed “in case they get lonely”.
Unfortunately, few of these nuances are reflected in toy shops.
Last year, it seemed as though the tide of pink might finally be about to turn, when British toy retailer Hamleys announced that it would no longer be designating special “girls” and “boys” areas in its stores.
At the time, it said the changes were not a response to a much-shared blogpost that had accused it of “gender apartheid”, but were made to “improve customer flow”.
One year on, in its Dublin store, there is some evidence of a more egalitarian approach. Lego is located in the demilitarised zone between the girls’ and boys’ areas – although the presence of pink boxes among the ninja and Star Wars-themed kits slightly undermines the effort at gender neutrality, though this is hardly Hamleys’s fault.
But deeper into the sickly pink glow of the area formerly known as the girls’ department, not much has changed. Here, your daughter can have her nails done in a teeny-bopper beauty salon called Tantrums, while she ponders the merits of the coy Hello Kitty versus the alarmingly precocious Bratzillaz dolls.