You can ask nearly anyone in our modern society, what do you associate the color blue with and they will reply with ‘boys’ and the same with pink for girls. It’s not something we think about very much because it seems normal, but we have allowed marketing and advertising to brand certain colors and toys and dictate what is gender normal for children, and it could very well be harmful to them.
Upon entering a toy store, you will see the girls section filled with pink and purple; sparkly dresses and plastic high heels abound, as well as toy kitchens, fake food, and cooking sets. Similarly on the boys side you will see blue, action figures, and fake handyman equipment as well as a pretty large assortment of toy guns and other pretend weapons. All of this may seem pretty benign, but in reality we are actually limiting what our child thinks is okay to play with and placing lines and gender roles on children before they can define their interests and preferences for themselves.
Not only does this place gender stereotypes and societal norms on children before they are old enough to think for themselves, it could be harmful to their development as well and have a much more far reaching impact. “Rather than encouraging experimentation and urging children to play with whatever excites them, toy companies presume that girls are less interested in toys that build spatial-reasoning skills (like Legos) and boys don’t want to play with toys that encourage verbal skills and creativity (like Barbies). This can have a serious impact on kids’ future skill sets and career aspirations, ultimately affecting the makeup of the workforce.” More information on toy segregation and how this affects children can be found in the article linked here.
Children are learning that certain toys are “for boys” or “for girls” when in reality, they should be free to play with whatever they want and allow any interests that they do have blossom. One of the biggest arguments I have seen against the gender wage gap existing is that there are much fewer girls in certain lucrative fields and that is skewing the results. Well one reason why there might not be any women in fields like science, architecture, and many manual labor positions, is that we teach our children from a young age that certain pasttimes and occupations are for certain genders. This becomes ingrained in their head and is a source of conditioning that I believe is stronger than we give it credit for. “By late primary age, research by Welsh organisation Chwarae Teg shows that children already have very clear ideas about the jobs that are suitable for boys and girls; ideas that are very hard to shake later on.” More information about this study and more negative effects can be found in an article linked here.
It is important that we change our commerical landscape and become more aware of these messages that we are telling our children just by the toys they are given. If we eliminate these gendered notions and products, we would see a more accepting environment for our children and a more diverse and productive workforce.