Toys for girls and toys for boys
Some of the girls at the school I work at have started bringing in skipping ropes. I was pleasantly surprised that children as young as 4 and 5 have the coordination to skip considering I was still tutoring them on zipping up their coats until recently. But something else that I noticed was that it was exclusively the girls skipping. Now how come, I though, children as young as 4 and 5 already have these preconceptions about gender and toys? This was no coincidence and the children are still happy to play in mixed groups when it comes to other games such as tag.
It started off a whole train of thought about gendered toys in particular but also how certain items became the realm of one of the other gender. I can understand dolls for girls and cars for boys but let’s look at skipping. Skipping is a physical activity that needs hand-eye coordination. It is used by boxers and others to improve cardiovascular fitness and tones both the leg and torso muscles. So why are skipping ropes for children typically pink? And who is telling these 5 year old boys to keep away? Or have they simply seen to many images of little girls skipping?
Exhibit B: horses. Girls loves horses. I had My Little Pony when I was a child as well as a silver and white princess horse complete with crown and cape. Girls often dream of riding horses and there are numerous horse-related fiction books aimed at girls. And yet horses are not inherently girly. Sure they have lovely long hair but these powerful beasts were also used to plough fields, in wars and duels. Horses are part and parcel of the masculine image of a knight, a soldier or a hero on a quest. Perhaps it is telling that older fiction books with horses such as Black Beauty or My Friend Flicka have male protagonists whereas the more recent ones have predominantly females (I’ll accept the notable exception of War Horse). Have horses become female because they are somewhat redundant in today’s society? After all, horse-riding now is only for pleasure as opposed to necessity.
So onto other toys/ interests. Male or female: rollerskates/blades, lego, trampolining, trump cards even soft toys have their preconceptions be this enforced by the advertising industry or parental choice in toy buying.
The kids don’t seem bothered by it. But I am. Perhaps that’s the pre-teen in me that secretly coveted a Meccano set for years but settled for Sindy dolls. That’s my excuse for not pursuing a career in engineering. At 11, one boy in my science class wired up a motor for a toy car. We’d never learnt this in school and all of my skills in making dolls’ clothes didn’t compare.