What was your favorite toy when you were a kid?
This was mine:
Yup, that’s exactly what it looks like - a wooden iron and ironing board made for a child. And I loved it. I would spend hours ironing my father’s handkerchiefs, singing songs about being some sort of Cinderella or washerwoman, and imagining that I was a character in a fairytale.
Today, my real-life adult ironing board and iron is shoved into the closet with my washer/dryer and in the last year I have been more apt to throw my clothes into the dryer to get wrinkles out than to iron.
But, that’s not to say that the gendered rearing of children doesn’t have an effect on how we do gender as we age. In fact, how we play as kids is an important contributor to how we develop cognitively. We know that gendered toys have long-term consequences for our later cognitive and social development and because of these consequences, the media and the family (as institutions) reinforce gendered play consistently.
Girls play with toys designed to foster nurturing and motherly role-play, while boys play with toys designed to foster activity and manipulative play. Gender stereotyped toys reinforce gender roles through these stereotyped activities and roleplay.
So does that mean that all girls have to grow up to be princesses or mothers or shop-til-you-droppers? (I’m reaching into my murky memory for childhood toys and games and I keep thinking of Mall Madness, forgive me.) Or that all boys have to grow up to soldiers or train engineers or ninjas?
Clearly not. But that doesn’t mean the marketing for gendered toys isn’t out there. Check out this little girls awesome rant about gendered marketing.
The thing is, though, that even though me and this little girl know that all this marketing gender roles stuff is bs, it’s still out there. And it’s kind of tough for us not to give in. I mean, Riley’s giving this rant while carrying a baby doll and I’m writing this blog while wearing high heels and a push up bra (I also have clothing on, don’t be alarmed). Clearly both of us have given in to gender roles a little bit.
Is that from how we play as children?
For me, the answer is yes. Every time I put on a pair of heels, I remember back to those tiny Barbie high heels. Every time I put on a pair of flats, I think of poor Skipper and her flat feet.
Can we ever move away from gendered play? Or will Cinderella continue to eat our daughters?
What do you think? Are gendered toys necessary for child-rearing? Do you use gendered toys with your kids? Why or why not?