Over the past couple of months I’ve become troubled. You see our eldest daughter, Helen, has started declaring certain toys and objects to be “for boys” or “for girls” and this causes my wife and I some pain.
As committed as I am to gender equality, I am a realist. Certain toys and activities will appeal to boys more than girls and vice versa, I’ve always accepted this situation.
That said, my wife and I have never told Helen that certain toys are off limits. We’ve allowed her to decide for herself what she wishes to play with. The result is an untidy pile of pink toys in her bedroom, punctuated at frequent intervals by toy cars, trains, plastic hammers and foam pirate swords that would be absolutely useless in battle against Sir Henry Morgan.
Just recently, however, she’s started getting more selective. It all began when we were in a shop looking at comics. Helen had been promised a comic as a treat and she was perusing the racks looking for one that she might like. Historically this was easy, it was usually a Thomas the Tank Engine comic but as she gets older her tastes are changing (I’m really not a fan of these comics and their cheap, tacky toys but at least it contributes to her interest in reading and story-telling).
In a bid to drag her away from a dreadful comic with poor quality toys on the front, I pulled one out that had a gender-neutral green and white cover. Admittedly it wasn’t the nicest looking cover but there wasn’t anything overtly masculine on the front.
To my surprise she took one look at it and instantly wrote it off with three simple words; “That’s for boys.” I was stunned. I just had no idea where she’d got this idea.
I have noticed the marketing of some toys is appalling. I can think of one toy doll Helen owns that had the most ridiculous vomit-inducing drivel written on the box. What it basically said was; “You’re a girl, now off you trot and get pregnant because that’s what women do.”
As an aside, I thoroughly recommend following @megpickard on twitter if you’re interested in this subject. Meg is a bit of radical when it comes to the gender neutrality of toys and I always enjoy reading her tweets when sees something she considers unacceptable (not forgetting the equally marvellous @LetToysBeToys).
Thankfully this story has a happy ending. Helen found an old Kid K’nex set in the garage the other day. You could be forgiven for thinking this stuff might appeal to boys more than girls. It’s a bit like a Meccano but instead of nuts and screws it’s held together with magnets.
This stuff must be about 20 years old and I’m not entirely sure where it came from, it’s certainly not something I ever played with. It came in a purple box and the components themselves are all manner of bright colours. It’s become her new favourite toy. She’s been getting very creative with it and turning it into “pirate gold”.
She’s also been asking mummy and daddy to build all sorts of things with this stuff. The thing we’re being asked time and again to build; a princess. I think that shows a great imagination and that toys you might expect to appeal to one gender can appeal to both.