What’s in a toy?

A recent phenomenon struck me the other day; while the worlds of young girls are expanding everyday the worlds of young boys are contracting more than ever. Little girls are now being raised to believe they can be anything from Elsa to Spiderman to Darth Vader! Meanwhile little boys are still very much expected to tow the line of convention. I came across an article written by the mother of a five year old boy who loves Elsa just as much as my little two year old girl. But, while my tiny lady could easily find a costume and swish around the room to her heart’s content, this little boy will tread a harder path. His mother spoke of how she and her husband have to balance a fine line between allowing the child freedom to express himself while at the same not allowing the world to hurt him when he does express himself.

The world is a tough place for a boy like this. He enjoys My Little Pony but his mother worries about the reactions of other people to him if he plays with these type of toys in public. We are all about allowing little girls the freedom to engage with what were once traditionally seen as ‘boys’ toys e.g. cars, garages, toolboxes etc. Yet it seems as a society we are not as comfortable seeing boys play with dolls and make-up kits. There is still something unsettling about it.

Personally I do not yet have a little boy but I did work with toddlers for years and they do not know anything about gender division at this young age. Little boys would happily wheel their dolls around in buggies and help set up house. Yet as two turned into three the gender divide began to emerge. The girls began to play kitchen and dress-up and dolls while the boys played rough and tumble in the soft play area. Where is this coming from? I don’t think it’s instinct. I think it comes from a society that still is caught up on ‘girl’ and ‘boy’ toys. Look at any toy catalogue and you will see girls’ toys separated from boys’. The ‘boy’ toy pages are coloured with blue and red and darker tones while the girls’ are all pink and yellow and bright tones.

We have come a long way sure but I think that there is still much much further we can go. And unfortunately until society can be more open-minded about gender and gender roles the life of a little boy who loves My Little Pony might be harder than his parents would like. I wish them all the best and hope one day he can wear his My Little Pony t-shirt with pride.