I’m not sure how many people are familiar with the story of Riley Maida, the 4-year-old who became an Internet hit due to her rant against “gender stereotypes in toy marketing”. Well a similar story by Huffington Post came out last week which reported that eight-year-old Olivia Steger recently wrote a letter to the editors of Dwell magazine in response to to their article that debate the merits of “Architect Barbie“.
The Huffington Post article covers Olivia Steger’s comments as well as summarizing Dwell magazine’s original article, which had mentioned “toy manufacturers whose products encourage girls to build, like LEGO and Lincoln Logs”. Huffington Post goes on to say that there is “much debate over whether the gender-specific blocks would inspire girls to opt for construction toys or if the ‘girly’ colors and figures were just further perpetuating stereotypes”. Retailers, the author of this article points out, are making conscious efforts to close the gap between “girl toys” and “boy toys” so that toys are marketable to both genders in order not ‘discriminate’. The apparent fear is that toys tailored to a specific gender will discourage the other (gender) from diversifying, expanding their options (including career options) and stifling creativity.
When did toys enter the discussion arenas of ‘gender discrimination’? As a child, I did not feel discouraged, discriminated against or otherwise stifled in my development by my parents, family members and friends and society at large in the toys that were marketed to children my age. I gravitated towards dresses, dolls, toy tea party sets and plastic jewelry while my brother rotated towards sporting goods, shovels, tools, trucks and sticks. My sister fell somewhere in the middle. Additionally, in my vast experience of nannying, never have I seen parents or other adults push children of certain genders towards one type of toy at the expense of another. In fact, in the family scenarios in which a child of a certain gender is given the options of both male and female toys, the child naturally rotates towards the “gender appropriate” toy such as a ball (if a boy) or dolls (if a girl).
This is all to say that children have natural tendencies towards certain toys over others. I feel confident in saying that most of us are familiar with the nurture versus nature philosophy that exists. And while a certain level of nurture exists in which types of toys parents buy their children, whether it be to encourage the child towards certain toys or whether it be parents purchasing toys for their child based off of his/her preferences, I believe that the nature aspect of the argument trumps in this debate. A child is born with a basic set of instincts, preferences and behaviors that no other human being can control. How those preferences and behaviors eventually evolve is an entirely different debate. Yet a child has certain inclinations and desires that are not taught.
Some girls prefer playing house with plastic plates and utensils while others (girls) prefer kicking a ball. The same can be said for boys. Yet the whole concept of the toy market attempting to prevent “discrimination” towards both genders in producing toys with “gender neutral” colors or organizing toys by types rather than colors is silly. Boys as a whole will naturally gravitate towards more “masculine” toys and activities while girls at large will naturally gravitate towards more “feminine” products. Boys and girls feel no discrimination at such a young age unless it is pointed out to them by an adult. And the entire concept of businesses jumping on the political bandwagon of not wanting to offend or leave out individuals in the game of “gender equality” is a bit absurd!