Recently Toys-R-Us affiliate Top-Toy released their holiday catalogues in Sweden and Denmark. The two catalogues were very similar with one exception which has generated attention world-wide.
The Danish version featured boys playing with “boy’s toys” and girls playing “girl’s toys”, while the Swedish catalogue mixed it up including a girl with a Nerf gun, a boy taking a doll’s temperature and boys and girls playing together in the kitchen.
These images and the surprise (and in some cases outrage) they generated tell us something about the climate in which most children grow up.
This is a climate in which images of a girl with a Nerf gun and a boy with a doll are so rare and unfamiliar as to warrant headlines in a country thousands of miles away.
The images children see instead on toy boxes, on TV and on play dates are the images in the Danish catalogue –boys playing with toy guns and girls playing in the kitchen. These messages are reinforced every time they have a birthday and get only “girl’s toys” or get a disapproving glance after picking up the “wrong” toy.
And so it is that children learn what toys they can and cannot play with if they’d like to stay out of trouble and avoid social rejection.
All children are unique and have their own special mix of preferences, why can’t they decided for themselves which toys they play with?
Playing is a developmentally important way for children to express these preferences and their own creativity. By imposing such strict gender boundaries on what is and isn’t appropriate play we prevent children from expressing their true selves and playing creatively, no matter where that may take them.
But it doesn’t have to be this way. We can challenge the one-sided messages of conformity and create a climate in which boys and girls play with all the toys.
Creating a toy catalogue that looks more like Top-Toys’ Swedish holiday catalogue might be a good place to start.