Why can’t toys just be toys?

Kira Cochrane has a great piece in the Guardian summarizing the issues with gendered toys.

Do all girls really want to play with dolls and tea sets? Do all boys want guns and trucks? Of course not. Then why are toymakers so aggressive in marketing these stereotypes?

Money, it seems is the answer. A segmented market is a more profitable market. Which is fine, toy companies are profit making organisations after all. The issue here is not that toy companies are out for a buck, but that the extreme segmentation is creating a gender straightjacket that feeds back into society, continually reinforcing a set of boxes that all kids, and then by extension adults, are forced to fit into.

Cochrane highlights one telling anecdote from a parent who got her daughter Pixar ‘Cars’ themed juices, only for her daughter to hide them.

“I said: ‘But you like cars, don’t you?’ And she said: ‘I do, but I don’t want anyone to know.'”

It’s hard, and if you’re a kid or teen, remarkably difficult, to cross the divide, to break out of the box society has placed you into.  The hardest prison to escape is the one you cannot even see. Segregated toys are all around us, yet we continually believe that men and women are actually that different, women talk more than men, girls play house, boys play football… so forth and so on.

Boys are especially stigmatised for crossing the gender aisle in toys and clothes – a fact that seems to arise from a deep misogyny, homophobia and transphobia: a suspicion of any boy who embraces femininity, which is considered synonymous with weakness and subordination. The campaigners and parents who are fighting for more gender equality in the toy market are well aware of this, and there’s a move away from the specific negativity towards femininity and pink that has sometimes characterised the debate.

Stop and think about it for a minute. Nobody is saying boys have to play with dolls, or girls have to like playing soldiers, but it should never be a big deal to say that they can.