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Gendered Children’s Toys: Please Think of Poor Barbie.

Recently, I’ve found myself buying a lot of children’s toys. And before you say it, yes they are for children. It’s not just some weird new hobby of mine. Although, I must admit that I do feel a strong twinge of jealousy every time I see children playing with loom bands in public. I should be able to play with loom bands in public. Yes, I am an adult in a responsible job but those bands look like so much fun.

Last month I was calmy perusing the children’s toys aisle in a well-respected and large superstore chain. It started off fine. Board games. Twister, Monopoly and Guess Who? were all perfectly viable options for my seven year old cousin Bella. “That’ll work,” I thought to myself. But I also wanted to get her something educational. I think a toy is at its best when it is secretly teacing you maths or science or english. I have the words of my primary school Headmaster drilled in to my head: “Education should be fun and fun should be educational.” Despite the fact he constantly smelled of fried onions, the man was right.

After approximately five minutes, my calm approach rapidly transformed in to borderline rage. From the colour scheme alone, I could tell that the next aisle was separated in to two types of toys. The left side of the aisle was covered in blues, blacks, browns and greens and the right side was pink. Pink everywhere. Pink, pink, pink.

Obviously, the left side toys were for boys and the right side for girls. This was enough to have me sighing loudly and mumbling sarcastic remarks to myself about each and every gender stereotyped toy I picked up. However, I really lost it when I discovered that Dinosaurs belonged to the boy section.

As a child, I was completely obsessed with dinosaurs. You could not move for dinosaur toys in my room. My Mum used to find little plasticine dinosaur models in all her plant pots  around the house because my dinosaurs had to live in the jungle and, of course, Mum’s poinsettia’s made the perfect jungle. How on earth toy manufacturers have concluded that dinosaurs belong in the realm of the ‘male’ is beyond me. I would love to have been present at that Board meeting: “Boss, couldn’t dinosaur toys be marketed to both boys and girls?” “No! Dinosaurs have big feet and scary eyes and sharp teeth- all boy qualities.”

There are two groups at fault here: the toy manufacturers and the superstore managers. The toy manufacturers are telling young children what it is to be a woman and a man. I discovered that one toy, which was a large plastic stick that, when you run with it, releases hundreds of bubbles, was marketed in two versions. The boy version was called a “Bubble Sword”- because, you know, boys are tough and like battles and fighting and stuff. And the girl version was called a “Bubble Wand”- because all little girls should aspire to be… fairies, I’m guessing? I don’t want anyone telling my young cousin what she should be. Only she gets to say what and who she is.

But, even if toy manufactuers continue to make wildly restrictive toys, the superstore could decide to challenge this by simply mixing up the shelves a bit. Under the big sign saying ‘Girls’, the store could add some volcano-making kits, astronaut outits and pirate ships to the hundreds of princess accessories.

A small part of me (not that small) also worries for the toys. What if Toy Story is true and the toys do come to life when the humans are gone. Poor Barbie has to undergo a life-threatening trek across the aisle every night, and risk getting caught, just to get to the helicopter toy. She must be sick of it. What if Barbie wants to fly somewhere? The Superstore Managers haven’t thought of that have they. What if she wants to fly Superstore Manager?! Think of poor Barbie!

In reality, separating the toys in this way will have nothing but a negative affect on our children’s sense of identity and mental health. Overwhelmingly the message it is sending to young boys is that you have to be combative, adventurous and an all-round tough guy. The message it is sending to our young girls is that the exciting stuff, like space and pirate ships and science, belongs to the boys. Girls, you just focus on being delicate, maternal and obsessed with pink. We wouldn’t accept these stereotypes as adults, so why are we accepting them for our children?

There are a few things we can do to stop our children feeling pigeon-holed. Firstly, write to the toy manufacturers who still insist on these gender stereotypes. Boycott their goods if needs be. Complain to the superstores who insist on segregating Barbie from Action Man and his helicopter. And if the store ignores you, well, go in there and mix up the shelves yourself! You owe it to your children.


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