Pretend Kitchens vs. Plastic Tools: Gendered Toys

By Hailley Smart

A wooden toy kitchen, photo taken by Bill Smith
A kid’s toy tool set, photo taken by El Cajon

When I walk into nearly any store, I can’t help but gravitate towards the toy section. This may be because I am an aunt of two adorable kids whom I love to spoil, and it may also be because I am very in touch with my inner child. But when I step into that laughter filled area, I see a clear divide between what toys are deemed suitable for girls and which toys are considered appropriate for boys. Now, I want you to think of yourself in my position, imagine how I find myself standing between the two isles noting the clear difference between them. To the one side my eyes are assaulted with every shade of pink imaginable with spots of purple and soft greens. On the other side I find stark blacks and greys, bold blues and dark greens. On one side is soft fabrics, on the other hard metals. To my left I will find a wide array of kitchen sets and dolls, princess dresses and ponies. On the opposite side of the isle is cars and tool sets, Legos and plastic guns. On one side hangs a sign labeled ‘Girl Toys’ on the other a sign reading ‘Boy Toys’. And it’s not just in physical stores, even on major retailers’ websites there is a clean split between girl and boy toys with no option of toys for all. But why is this the case? Has it always been this way, or can we fix it? Is this the way it should be, or is the separation harmful for both girls and boys?

Contrary to many beliefs, the idea of splitting toys across gender lines is actually a fairly new concept. As recently as the 1970’s, a mere 50 years ago, the idea of having toys separated into boys’ and girls’ sections would have been ludicrous. According to Elizabeth Sweet, an assistant professor of psychology at SJSU, “In the Sears catalog ads from 1975, less than 2 percent of toys were explicitly marketed to either boys or girls”. In recent history, most toys could be found in a wide variety of bright and bold colors such as red, blue, yellow, and green. They were also advertised for all kids, showing both boys and girls playing together on the box. Toys were marketed not based on the gender of the kids playing with it, but what the toy could teach all children. Toys were separated within a single aisle based on whether they helped children develop social skills, fine motor skills, spacial skills, or emotional skills, attributes that are necessary for all children. In fact, the sorting of toys into gendered aisles didn’t become a thing till the 80’s and wasn’t as clear and prevailing of a split until the 90’s. So, the divide between girls’ and boys’ toys hasn’t always existed, but is it really a bad thing?

Studies have shown that the divide between toys can actually be very detrimental to young children. One of the primary ways that this is the case is due to the effect that marketing can have on kid’s interests. What is being advertised for kids to play with teaches them what is acceptable for them to be interested in. In a study completed by NPR, it was discovered that when computers were first released they were highly marketed towards boys, which resulted in a great decrease of women in fields like coding. This is because it was promoted that liking computers was for boys, so young girls were pushed away from being interested in going into computer jobs. This can also be seen on the reverse, where boys are pushed away from more ‘feminine’ jobs, such as early childhood teaching and cooking, due to toys like kitchen sets and baby dolls being marketed to girls. But the way in which interests develop isn’t the only way that dividing up the sections is harmful to kids. Many toys are designed to specifically target a certain attribute or skill. Professor Judith Elaine Blakemore at Indiana University said in an interview with the NAEYC that “moderately masculine toys have many positive qualities (spatial skills, science, building things, etc.) […] it is the same for some moderately feminine toys (nurturance, care for infants, developing skills in cooking and housework).” For example, Legos help young children develop fine motor skills, and for quite a while there was no girl equivalent to Legos to help young ladies develop these skills.

But what can we do about it? Many organizations are pushing for toy companies and sellers to stop dividing and marketing toys based on gender; the Let Toys Be Toys movement is one of these groups. They are a British group pushing for “the toy and publishing industries to stop limiting children’s interests by promoting some toys and books as only suitable for girls, and others only for boys.” On their website they give updates on what companies are doing to fix this problem, as well as giving recommendations of toys for every age group regardless of marketed gender. And many retailers themselves are working towards having gender neutral, or at least gender equal, marketing. This can be seen in Hasbro’s most recent string of commercials for their Nerf line, where both girls and boys are shown using their toys with no clear color divide, and Kirkbi, the owners of Legos, who have started promoting a wider variation of Legos for girls and Legos for all kids. The final thing that can be done, as consumers, is to look past the gender labels when shopping for toys. Ask the kid what they are interested in and shop based on what the toy can teach them. Don’t be confined to the rigid pink and blue, play kitchen and toy tool set, girl and boy divide. My nephew loves the color purple and my niece wants to grow up to be just like Bob the builder. Why should they be limited to only blue toys and only dolls?

Las Niñas del Buen Pastor (The Girls of Buen Pastor)

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The internado sits behind the Church of Our Lady of Guadalupe

By Vicky Diloné

I first came to UI in 2016. I was here for a semester and doing well academically but I was struggling with anxiety. After talking with my parents, it was decided I would go live with them in Mexico. It was a decision I wasn’t all too excited about, but I came to be grateful for the opportunities it gave me. I found myself in my mom’s home state of Guanajuato and I had no idea what I was supposed to be doing. I was taking Spanish classes (a story that deserves its own post) and exploring the state’s beautiful capital city. But I wasn’t feeling all that productive. I wanted to do something meaningful so that I wouldn’t feel bad for leaving university. I was prideful and the cure for pride is humility.

That is when I found out about the Convento del Buen Pastor (Convent of the Good Shepherd), and I immediately knew I wanted to volunteer my time with them. Though their website hadn’t been updated since 2011, others confirmed that it was still open, and I was able to talk with the social worker on the phone. Buen Pastor is a church-run  and state-sponsored foster home for girls and a women’s shelter that supports those in and outside of the state. The website describes their mission: Continue reading “Las Niñas del Buen Pastor (The Girls of Buen Pastor)”

Gender and Role Play in Kids

Colorful graphic of androgynous figures illustrating different genders
Graphic illustrating different genders

By Beatrice Santiago 

Do you remember when you were 9 years old?

I vaguely remember what I was doing at that age. And I remember experiences in which I felt inferior to men, thinking as a young girl that I was not capable of certain tasks just because I was a girl. Society’s ideals can be cruel. Especially when you are told that if you do something a man does, you are not “acting like a lady.”

I recently read an article, “I AM 9 YEARS OLD: Children Across the World Tell Us How Gender Affects Their Lives.”  As the title implies, children were asked questions like:

“What is the best thing about being a girl?”

“What is the worst thing about being a girl?”

“How might your life be different if you were a boy (or a boy instead of a girl)?”

Their responses were shocking. However, they were answers I was expecting. Although many were positive, some were really sad to read. These children were interviewed from all different parts of the world by National Geographic.

Continue reading “Gender and Role Play in Kids”

Want a Dose of Cognitive Dissonance?

Stacked white papers with big black question marks on them.
Question Marks

By Brianna Love

When an 8-month-old baby girl is raped in India, women across the United States took a stance on Twitter to spread the word that this is not okay. The reaction some men had on Twitter was not pleasing at all. From death threats to just plain calling the women sexist, why does spreading the word of such a tragedy hit a nerve with men?

Swati Jai Hind, Twitter username: @SwatiJaiHind, tweeted about the baby on January 29 at 9:09 a.m. Her tweet said, “The worst has happened. An 8 month old baby has been brutally raped in the Capital and is battling for her life in a Hospital. Going to the hospital to meet her. Am totally numb. Terrified to face her. Please please pray for her.” By 10:50 a.m. Nivesh Agarwal replied with “Is this tweet a concern or a stunt .. Why do we write all these things on Social Media to gain sympathy or voters support.”
Continue reading “Want a Dose of Cognitive Dissonance?”

Is Prenatal Gender Preference Healthy?

By Jolie Day

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“You have 3 sisters? Your poor dad!” This is a common reaction when I tell people that my family is almost all girls. Why my “poor dad”? Do they assume he is not happy with only daughters? Is the amount of estrogen intimidating? Do they think his life would’ve been better with the grace of a son? Why is my mom left out of this? I still can’t wrap my head around the insinuated preference for male children and the overall more positive perception of what raising a male child is like in our world.

When we think of male child preference, we tend to think of countries like India and China that have been markedly fixated on the economic prospects that a male child may bring and that a female might cost. These cultural norms are perpetuated through deeply ingrained beliefs that males will be more successful and ultimately benefit the family, whereas females are seen as a liability that may eventually lead to expenses such as a dowry, which a lot of families struggle to afford. In some cases, families will even turn to breaking the law to reveal the sex of the child during pregnancy and abort female fetuses.

In the United States, although not as severe, child gender preference has implications that not only effect how children of different genders are raised within a family, but also effects the likelihood of families staying together, proving more likely if there are male children. With new technological advances, it has also become easier for parents everywhere to potentially choose the sex of their child via preimplantation genetic diagnosis and in vitro fertilization. These preferences are affecting sex ratios, perpetuating negative stigmas about the worth of women and girls, and attributing to the different treatment of girls and boys within families.

Continue reading “Is Prenatal Gender Preference Healthy?”

One Toy, Two Toy, Red Toy, Blue Toy— Why we need gender-neutral toys

By Madison Teuscher

 Take a walk through any department store toy aisle, and you will see labels that ensure we know which toys are meant for girls and which toys are meant for boys. Pink and purple pastels surround “girl” aisles filled with dresses, dolls, and kitchen sets. Red, blue and orange dominate the “boy” aisles—these sections have trucks, guns, and tool sets. The divides between these toy aisles go much deeper than just playthings for children—they set the patterns for socialization and behavior for a lifetime.Two children sit surrounded by toys- a girl surrounded by pink, and a boy surrounded by blue.

Admist this sea of pink and blue, there are parents (and their kids!) who appreciate gender-neutral marketing. This February, Target decided to ditch its gendered children’s home décor lines with their new collection, “Pillowfort”. The line focuses on prints and colors that can appeal to any child, with themes like “Tropical Treehouse”, “Ocean Oasis”, and “Stellar Station”. The collection’s February debut was met with positive appreciation—the line is meant for all children; “cute enough for a three-year-old, cool enough for a ten-year-old”. This is one positive step in a growing movement towards gender-neutral décor and toys for kids. Continue reading “One Toy, Two Toy, Red Toy, Blue Toy— Why we need gender-neutral toys”

The Attack on Single Moms

By Shanda Glover

On February 20, the Chicagoist reported on new legislation being filed in Springfield, Illinois. The bill, sponsored by two Republican state lawmakers, would deny a single mother financial assistance. If her child’s father is not listed on the birth certificate, she could be denied an official birth certificate.

Illinois Birth Certificate ExampleThe introduction of this bill has brought to light an ongoing judgment on our country’s single mothers.

The bill states:

“[T]hat if the unmarried mother cannot or refuses to name the child’s father, either a father must be conclusively established by DNA evidence or, within 30 days after birth, another family member who will financially provide for the child must be named, in court, on the birth certificate. Provides that absent DNA evidence or a family member’s name, a birth certificate will not be issued and the mother will be ineligible for financial aid from the State for support of the child.” Continue reading “The Attack on Single Moms”