Most people can remember their first toy. For most girls, it was probably the infamous Barbie doll. According to the National Association for the Education of Young Children (NAEYC), in preschool, 90 percent of play is associated with some sort of toy. Toys that are considered feminine are those that focus on appearances such as an attractive doll or costume dress. Conversely, boys are more likely to play with a wider range of toys that include sports, play swords, G.I. Joes, costumes and monster trucks. This wider range is crucial because different types of play teach important social values and, unfortunately, this is what most young girls are deprived of. So why has there not been more variety of toys for girls?
Young children are impressionable, so toy companies are integral in shaping the development of their minds. In addition to getting toys to market stronger role models to girls, toys in general should be geared at developing children’s cognitive and social skills instead of just imposing gender-typed values. Girls have not seen more diverse toys because toy companies’ executive boards, comprised mostly of men, have not come up with them. In order to have young girls play with toys that focus less on the importance of appearance, we need to have more women on the executive boards. This is because when the authority of a toy company is not gender-balanced, its clientele will not be either and its output of products will not be as diverse. Women on these boards would make possible the creation of stronger role models for girls. And when young girls have this opportunity, they will be more likely to grow up believing in all of the possibilities they could embody instead of merely concentrating on their appearances.
I am not arguing to get rid of dolls altogether. However, girls should be able to have interests beyond dress-up and doing their hair and makeup. Recently, Lego unveiled a new line of female astronomer, paleontologist and chemist mini-figurines called the Research Institute. They sold out on the first day. Women are underrepresented in the STEM field and by showing girls at younger ages that the field is as much theirs as it is for males, it encourages a broader range of role models. Also, when there is great demand for such products, why not expand production and offer girls more?
Allowing children to select their own toys is important for expressing their interests. Interestingly, in a study with the NAEYC, Professor Judith Blackmore from Indiana University−Purdue University found that toys “traditionally [viewed] as male oriented — construction toys and toy vehicles…elicited the highest quality play among girls.” With such findings, it is clear that young children’s curiosity and interests should not be confined to gender-typed boxes. But in order for boys and girls to be able to pick their own toys, we also need to also make gender-neutral toys more mainstream. In December of last year, a Toys “R” Us store in Stockholm went gender neutral, where it offered an array of possibilities to both boys and girls, making children and their parents ecstatic. If toy companies and toy stores alike made this change, there would be unlimited possibilities for what boys and girls could consider “fun.”
Shifting toy industries’ goals to produce more gender-neutral toys will be a significant move towards gender equality. Why must boys play with “boys’ toys” and girls with “girls’ toys”? When young children are exposed to the same toys and same values, they can grow up understanding that everyone is unique and that no gender is better than the other. When we see more women on the executive boards of toy companies, the long-term goals we will see fulfilled are achieving gender equality and providing girls with new role models.
But, play also should not be complicated. While they are young, children should be allowed to explore and develop their own personalities.The one hope for all kids is that they grow up to be confident in themselves and compassionate towards others. If this is our goal, it does not matter what toys kids choose to play with as long as there is variety in their own interests.