Hyderabad: Do all girls really like to wear pink and play with Barbie dolls? Do all boys like blue and want guns and remote controlled cars? Most girls do, so do most boys, but definitely not all, experts say.
More than a decade and a half into the new millennium, the ‘colour code’ of blue for boys and pink for girls for play items appears to be still stuck in public psyche. A walk down a department store toy aisle demonstrates a clear gender divide- superheroes and sports cars for the boys, Barbie dolls and kitchen sets for the girls.
For many parents heading to a local toy shop to get a gender-neutral gift or toy for their children seems to be one of the biggest challenges these days.
“While shopping for my five-year-old nephew, there were several times when his choice of toys was subjected to taboos like “dolls aren’t for boys”. All you have to do is take a trip to just about any toy store and you will inevitably face a glaring set of choices,” says Karishma Kumar, Senior Content Strategist at Hamstech.
She argues that while battling stigmatisation and stereotyping of genders, the stark discrimination made right in childhood is ignored. “Toys are epitomes of innocence and free-spiritedness. They should not be drawing lines between genders,” Karishma said.
After studying the impact of these gender specific toys, the White House recently held a conference on gender stereotypes in toys and media, with many toy manufacturers and experts attending. After feedback, Target, an online toy store, announced that it would get rid of signs labeling toys on the lines of gender. Also, a UK based campaign called Let Toys Be Toys seeks to get retailers to stop categorising toys and books for one gender only.
However, the local toy stores still have a long way to go, says Roma Saxena, a resident of Banjara Hills. “With our eight-year-old daughter, we tried to avoid getting bowled over by the Barbie doll juggernaut, but eventually had to concede defeat. Every trip to the local toy shop undermined our efforts at home,” said Roma Saxena, an independent short film-maker.
Experts believe that even though this may seem like a trivial issue, toys help children to learn new skills and develop intellectually.
“The impact of gender-specific toys has major implications for a child’s learning and attitudes far beyond the playground. Children may extend this perspective from toys and clothes into future roles, occupations, and characteristics,” says Dr. Radhika N Acharya, Rehabilitation Psychologist.
While Barbie dolls and kitchen sets are good at helping kids with active imagination and language skills, Lego, puzzles and building blocks help them with spatial skills, a capacity for creative, divergent thinking and set the groundwork for learning math principals down the line.
Also, there are different ways in which parents react to these powerful influences on children. Many continue to say they are fine with the blue-pink dichotomy while others may want to expose their children to nothing but gender-neutral toys.
“However, children end up paying more attention and possibilites are that they end up with lasting memories of toys they believe are meant for their gender,” Dr.Radhika adds.