Get beyond pink and blue

When you talk to your child about the future, you hold out the world. “You can be anything you want to be,” you say.

But are your child’s toys sending a different message? Are toys telling your kids that girls have only one kind of role and boys have another? Are the toys for your kids sexist?

With the recent introduction of the "Friends" line by Lego came some debate. The line is clearly marketed to girls, with pink and purple sets that include a cafe, a beauty salon and a splash pool in which the larger than usual mini-figure -- with breasts -- appears to be sipping a cocktail. Why? Why do toys -- and now classic Lego! -- have to be so genderized?

Stereotypes and gender roles

Looking through the aisles of any large toy store, you get a clear idea of "girl" toys and "boy" toys. Your first signal is color. Girls? Pink, purple, pastels, white. Boys? Blue, black, gray and dark colors. Then there's content. Toys marketed to boys tend to be active, even violent and noisy. There are trucks with sirens, action figures with weapons, construction toys. Toys marketed to girls tend to be less active, focus on "self-improvement" (hair and makeup) or with specific societal roles such as home care and child care. Pink toy vaccum cleaner for a girl? Where's the matching blue toy garbage can for the boy? (Hint: It doesn't exist!)

Was it always this way?

"Classic toys had less pink and blue."

Yes -- and no. Gender stereotypes have long existed in our society as have toys to fit them -- dolls for girls and trucks for boys are nothing new. What was different then was that the toys themselves were less genderized. Those classic toys had less pink and blue -- less everything, really -- and left more up to the child's imagination. The doll didn't arrive in a pinked-up package with photos of how the doll should be used (in a tea party, for example). There was no signal to the child that the doll couldn't go climb a tree or drive a tractor.

Does it really matter?

Being a kid is intense enough without piling on societal expectations. If you mean it when you say, "You can do or be anything," then sexist toys for kids do matter. They undermine your message. Your son likes to cook? Hooray! But good luck finding any play cooking tools for him in anything other than "girl" colors and aren't packaged in a way that excludes his entire gender. Within your family, you can -- and likely do -- work around this issue to a certain extent. You buy real (inexpensive) cooking tools for your son or the noisy trucks for your daughter. And what about science or technology toys? Or toys that try to be gender neutral? You have to seek out an independent toy store that specializes in learning toys.

Making a conscious effort to (literally) not buy into sexist messages from toy companies takes a bit of effort. Those classic, not themed Legos are out there -- just harder to find.

More on toys for kids

10 Quick tips for organizing the playroom
Lessons to teach while playing with blocks
Choosing baby toys


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Comments on "Sexist kids' toys"

Hannah September 23, 2013 | 7:11 AM

I read a news article today about a family who just had their third child (who they named Storm - says it all) and they only let one close friend and their two older children know the of the baby. The grandparents don't know, family don't know. Their aim was to make the baby gender neutral (or gender-less, as they put it). Personally, I believe this is more damaging in dressing the child in blue/pink and telling people what the gender is, or even giving it a proper name. ism doesn't come from giving your child a definite boys/girls name, not does it come from what you dress them in. It comes from media and the past, when girls were told that they had no future. If you dress a girl in pink, you can still tell them that they can be a fire fighter, business woman or airplane pilot - careers that are male dominated. Just the same as a boy raised in a very masculine way could still become a hairdresser or a fashion designer. It's about the impression from other people (family, friends and the media) that determines prejudice and ism, not what you clothe a child in.

LQ March 16, 2012 | 9:11 PM

I don't think you can train kids to be gender-neutral. Some girls will naturally like more "boyish" things and some boys will like more "girlish" things, and that should not be discouraged, in my opinion. But it can't be forced. I'm the mom of a boy who never had much interest in girly things. He was a train fanatic as a toddler. When my first niece came along, I thought she'd love trains, too, but she never got into it. She loves princessy stuff, which my sister tried to discourage. Then I remembered how much I wanted those tacky pink toys as a kid, and I became the indulgent aunt to buys her the ridiculously girly things she really wants. I have no regrets about that. If she hadn't been interested, I would have bought her what she really wanted, regardless. This concern goes back. In the '80s, I babysat three little boys who were not encouraged to play with "boy" toys -- everything was tastefully gender neutral or feminine. I was fascinated watching as the younger boys created their own "fighting" toys out of sticks and legos. It definitely wasn't nurture. The oldest wasn't into that stuff. If the parents hadn't had more kids, they may have thought they'd succeeded in raising a gender-neutral child, but really, that's just how he was.

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