Jacqui Paterson on why the toy industry needs to smash down its gender barriers

A PARENT BLOGGER’S VIEW: Gender barriers

I’m the proud mum of two bright, funny, feisty girls who are just about to turn four and six.

My job as a journalist, then a professional blogger, has put us in the lucky position of being able to see, try and review many new toys as they hit the market. And I’ve noticed something that worries me.

My sister and I grew up in New Zealand in the 1970s. We climbed trees, and zoomed Matchbox cars around the brown and orange carpet (hey, I said it was the seventies).

We played with Barbie dolls too, but I don’t remember ever making my toy choice on the fact I was a girl. The toys came in regular, realistic colours and the boxes often showed boys and girls playing together.

As a toddler, my eldest daughter idolised Roary the Racing Car. But after joining a playgroup I saw a change. “I don’t want to play with cars anymore,” she told me. “They’re for boys.”

“There’s no such thing as boys’ toys,” I replied. “You can play with whatever you like.”

And that’s when I really began to notice it – this dividing line being drawn between the sexes. When I walked into a toy store there was a wall of candy pink tea sets and doll strollers to one side, and a sea of blue and grey swords, cars and boats to the other. It was one, or the other; there was literally no in between.

I get that girls and boys aren’t the same; that, very generally, they enjoy different things. What I don’t understand is why the modern toy industry seems set on driving a further wedge between the sexes.

By only giving our children the ‘girl’ option or ‘boy’ option, we’re removing that element of choice and cementing these stereotypes in their minds.

I asked my nearly four year old what her favourite colour was. “Pink,” she replied. “Why?” I countered. “Because all my toys are pink,” she said (toys bought from friends and family – I avoid pink wherever possible, on principle).

Which might not seem a big deal when they’re choosing a teddy bear, but what about later in life, when the ingrained idea of this impenetrable gender gap impacts on other decisions they make. Like what career they move into (because they can’t possibly try out for a boy’s job).

It’s 2014 – we should be smashing down gender barriers, not making them stronger, and the first step is now, while our children’s minds are open, and impressions are being made that may last a lifetime. Let’s ensure they’re the right ones.

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