Ridding toys of gender labels won’t rid children of gender.
Social justice vigilantes and retailers are teaming up this Christmas season to defeat natural, genetic predispositions, one toy at a time. Behind this effort is the belief that children have long been victims of a socially constructed phenomenon and sophisticated plot to promote sexist playthings — and that this has contributed to the manifold inequalities we see today.
According to these people, gendered toys limit children’s potential by conditioning them from a young age (through colored packaging and advertisements, for example) to fill a certain role in society. In other words, the girl who likes My Little Pony and the boy who likes Thomas the Tank Engine enjoy these toys because unknowing moms and dads living in a sexist society have compelled them to enjoy them. The proposed solution is to lose the gender-specific labels, and allow children the freedom to choose toys that really interest them.
This past week, the following “toy guide” went viral on Facebook:
If you walk into any major toy store, it will be divided into pink and blue sections to help you pick the “right” toys for the girls and boys in your life. But, with this handy chart, you can take the guesswork out of your holiday shopping once and for all.
The guide was created by “A Mighty Girl,” an online source for “diverse” and non-stereotypical (read: more math and science, less pink and “domestic”) toy, movie, and book suggestions for young girls. Because dollhouses, kitchen sets, and tiaras are sexist, and modern women are better than that (I certainly wasn’t).
Michigan State University Extension recently published an article titled, “Dangers of gender-based toys.” In it, author Tracy Trautner explains how media and adult influence have enforced traditional gender roles to the detriment of child development:
The piece concludes that “strong gender-type toys” might be damaging children by teaching girls to “focus on attractiveness and appearance,” and encouraging “violence and aggression” in boys. In short, the patriarchy is conspiring against us, and the only way to combat it is to engineer kids’ preferences away from “traditional” boy-girl interests.
So, is the little boy aggressive because his parents gave him toy guns and a football, or was the aggressive energy biologically predisposed? If the latter is true, a different toy won’t change anything. Little boys can, and often do, turn anything (sticks, pencils, their sister’s fairy wand) into a make-believe weapon.
The argument that “strong gender-type toys” encourage “violence and aggression” in boys follows the same liberal logic as the gun-control movement. Both assert that inanimate objects, not people, are the root cause of the problem. But conservatives know that the toy (or gun) doesn’t cause the behavior — the behavior is channeled through the toy (or gun).
Sociologist and lecturer at California State University, Sacramento, Dr. Elizabeth Sweet argues that marketing toys specifically to girls or boys perpetuates the (apparently false) belief that men and women are fundamentally different and that “gender is the primary determinant of interests and skills.”
Sweet is part of “No Gender December,” a global online initiative to “bring gender equality to the world of toys and children” by eliminating sex-specific colors, labels, and images from toys. The belief is that eliminating gender labels altogether from toy aisles will encourage children to pursue a wider range of options.
The “systematic sexism” of toys argument raises an important “chicken or the egg” question. Sweet and Tracy Trautner believe that in the absence of social conditioning, we would see a greater diversity of interests and skills among boys and girls (e.g. more male nurses and more female computer scientists).
Liberals love to invoke their reliance on “science” as being their sole guide, but unfortunately for the gender-neutral crowd, neurologists have found approximately 100 gender differences between the male and female brain. Here is just one example, cited by mental health expert Dr. Gregory L. Jantz:
Male and female brains process the same neurochemicals but to different degrees and through gender-specific body-brain connections. Some dominant neurochemicals are serotonin, which, among other things, helps us sit still; testosterone, our sex and aggression chemical; estrogen, a female growth and reproductive chemical; and oxytocin, a bonding-relationship chemical.
In part, because of differences in processing these chemicals, males on average tend to be less inclined to sit still for as long as females and tend to be more physically impulsive and aggressive. Additionally, males process less of the bonding chemical oxytocin than females. Overall, a major takeaway of chemistry differences is to realize that our boys at times need different strategies for stress release than our girls.
June Reinisch, a former Kinsey Institute director, studied data on thousands of baby girls and boys, and she concluded there were just inborn differences. […]
“The male brain … actually has a harder time processing the female voice versus the male voice, which is a possible explanation to why we don’t listen when our wives call us,” Dr. Billy Goldberg said on “20/20.”
Goldberg and Mark Leyner are co-authors of “Why Do Men Fall Asleep After Sex?” They said it was true that men listened less because of biology.
“Male babies make less eye contact, for instance, with their mothers than female babies,” Leyner said. “So what we’re talking about are different ways of relating to people that start at the earliest possible age.”
Retailers like Toys R Us and Walmart have nonetheless responded to the call/pressure for gender-fluid marketing by removing gendered signs from their toy aisles. And last year, Target announced that it would do the same in all of its departments:
Interestingly enough, all of these stores continue to categorize toys by gender on their websites. Speaking to The New York Times last year, Target spokeswoman Molly Snyder explained that her company’s decision to keep online gender labels was informed by the fact that many online shoppers still search products by gender.
Perhaps this is because the majority of little boys are completely content not owning a single doll, and the majority of little girls would be devastated to receive a Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtle or Captain America action figure for Christmas.
Is gendered toy marketing the product of dated stereotypes, or is this simply a matter of supply and demand? If more girls are interested in princesses, it makes sense that an advertisement for a princess costume would include a girl. If more boys are interested in Star Wars, it makes sense that the packaging for a Star Wars action figure would feature a boy. Of course, there are anomalies, but exceptions do not make the rule.
Ridding toys of gender labels won’t rid children of gender. A gender-fluid Barbie Dreamhouse would still have an overwhelmingly female consumer base. Like many of the efforts to “level the playing field,” this push for genderless toys ignores the fact that males and females are inherently, biologically and psychologically dissimilar. And no amount of social engineering will change this.