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Gender-Stereotyped Toys on the Wish List?

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Do you buy the gender-stereotyped toys on your kids’ wish list?

Oh it’s the holidays and the smell of gender-specific toys is in the air. Perhaps you caught my recent interview on CBC radio discussing the viral 1970’s letter from Lego. In case you haven’t seen it:

lego letter



Seems crazy that Lego had to inform parents of such play basics, but remember that 40 years ago, a boy might be reprimanded for playing with dolls and labeled a sissy. Parents felt that playing with the other gender’s toys was wrong, and a sign of homosexuality. Hark no! (please, note my sarcasm in that).

Sounds archaic, but I have to wonder if our approach to gender, toys and play has really improved all that much. A recent trip to a toy store revealed to me just how apparently distinct the boy’s toy isle is from the girl’s. Without looking at the actual toy selection, the first notable difference is the color: blue for boys, pink and purple for girls.

Historical Fact: Children, both boys and girls were dressed in white clothing for easy bleaching until pastels were introduced by clothing manufactures in the 40’s. In fact originally, pink was for boys as it was thought to be a bolder colour and blue more subtle for girls.  

A child learns about gender roles before the age of 4.   A toddler will tell you that pink is for girls and blue is for boys. Dresses are for girls and pants are for boys. Girls have long hair and boys have short hair.  If a kindergarten boy plays in the kitchen area of the classroom, other boys will pull him away and say “that is for girls” and dissuade him from that type of play.   Oh how young these false ideas get planted!

Colour choice, clothing type, hair styles and play activities are examples of cultural norms about gender that is enforced through consumerism and advertising. We’d like to think we are immune or don’t participate in gender stereotyping, but I ask you: Did your newborn baby pictures include a little headband in either pink or blue? We all have a need to gender identify – so how can we parent our children so they understand that while they may be a boy, its okay to play with dolls. And yes, you are a girl, but it is okay to love hot wheels?

In fact, how do we show our children “the entire world is your oyster and you can find your passion and interests in any form as you discover your authentic self.”  

Many parents have tried to send this message only to throw up their hands saying “I tried to get our boys to play with dolls but they wouldn’t have anything to do with them. It was all trucks, trucks and more trucks”. Likewise, some mothers claim they have never worn make-up a day in their lives and live in Birkenstocks, so they marvel at their daughter’s seemingly magnetic attraction to princess dresses and high heels in the costume box at nursery school.

Do we have any control? Or is this gender thing just hard-wired?

Like any nature vs. nurture situation it’s hard to say precisely the weighting of each, but since we can’t control nature, let’s focus on the nurturing part. That’s were we have some influence in our child’s development.

Best Practices to Break Down Gender Stereotyping:

  1. Regardless if you have boys or girls, make sure your play area has some items from each of the following:
    • Art supplies
    • Musical instruments ( no – you don’t have to buy a mini orchestra pit)
    • Science / technology
    • Story books (watch for gender lines in the plot – speak to librarian for recommendations. Discuss the roles of each in the book)
    • Imagination play (Dress – Up box / puppets / stuffed animals)
    • Building / connector sets
    • Equipment for fine and gross motor Activities
    • Board games with established rules to follow

This ensures that your children have exposure to various interests. If you shop on line you will find there are gender neutral options for each.

  1. Start playing with the less popular toys at home and you’ll find you have company. Maybe they wouldn’t pick doing a craft project on their own, but if dad is at the table gluing macaroni on a paper plate, he’ll find his kids joining him!
  2. If they ask Santa for a Barbie doll, Let Santa be the hero, you can be the feminist by rounding out the exposure with other dolls, including the new Lammily doll or groovy girls dolls.
  3. Model living outside the gender stereotyped box yourself.
  4. Point out gender stereotypes to your children and discuss in an age appropriate way.
  5. Never say “that’s for boys/girls” and correct your children if they say it.
  6. Parents often worry their child will be ridiculed.   If your Billy Elliot wants to dance – support him instead of sparing him potential teasing.


And lastly – it’s a long journey to adulthood.   My princess loving daughters have grown up into empowered women. They uphold the ideal of social equality between the genders. They are feminine, lipstick-wearing liberated women who make me and Gloria Steinem proud.

About Alyson

Alyson has been blogging parenting advice for over 15 years. She has been a panelist at BlogWest, Blissdom, #140NYC and more. Her content appears on sites across Canada and the US, but you can read all her own blog posts right here.

More about Alyson

One Response to “Gender-Stereotyped Toys on the Wish List?”

  1. Monica

    Thank you for this post Alyson. I find it hard having a girl and a boy at home to keep it neutral. I normally respond to the “that’s for boys/girls” comment by saying “it’s for whoever likes it. If you like dresses it’s ok; or if you like trucks, it’s ok”. But it’s particularly hard when it’s Christmas and grandma insists on getting my girl a princess dress when she doesn’t really like dresses. Or insists my boy needs a haircut when he likes to have it long…. =!


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