GI Joe 25th

The other day, I came across a flowchart that addressed the issue of gender-appropriate toys for children. It stated, when trying to figure out if a particular toy is appropriate for a particular gender, you only have to ask yourself one question: Do you operate this toy with your genitalia?

If the answer is no, then the toy can be enjoyed by both boys and girls. If the answer is yes, then the toy is probably not meant for children.

While this flowchart was meant to be funny, it does bring up a very curious point about the nature of children’s toys. We’ve already discussed the ongoing issues with gender roles as they relate to adults, but mainstream society already works to define what is “right” for a boy and what is “right” for a girl, even before the little ones are born.

And this got me thinking. Yes, some toys may be marketed in more of a gender-neutral manner, but then there are lots more toys that are clearly being geared toward one gender or the other. Do you have a baby doll in pink packaging, emphasizing the importance of beauty or encouraging a nurturing instinct? That’s definitely in the girls section. See the Star Wars figurine with realistic lightsaber sounds? Yeah, that’s probably a “boys” toy.

In this day and age, though, does it really matter anymore? Why can’t the boy be taught about how to attend to a baby’s needs? Why can’t a little girl be interested in the interstellar battles of the Republic?

And to this end, I’ve observed something of a double standard. Some people may give strange looks to the little girl who plays with construction toys or little military men, but they may simply dismiss this as “tomboy” behavior. They may even see this as “empowering” her to break down traditional gender roles. They may comment on how she is going to be her own woman. Good for her, right? Girl power and all that.

Flip the script and have a little boy who is far more interested in his Elsa doll and the Barbie playhouse and those same people will continue to give strange looks. The difference is that they may be much more disapproving, concerned about the perceived masculinity of the little man. There must be something wrong with him. Well before the little boy shows any interest in such matters, these people may question his sexual orientation.

Gender-specific McDonald's toys?

We see this everywhere. When you go to a McDonald’s, you’ll find that the Happy Meal will almost always have two sets of toys: the Barbie doll for girls and the Hot Wheels for boys. In many cases, if the child is visibly present, the McDonald’s cashier will simply default to the “gender-appropriate” toy and not even offer the alternative.

The fact of the matter is that these are all just social constructs imposed upon our children. It is our role as parents to encourage exploration. If the little girl wants to build a Lord of the Rings LEGO set, that’s fantastic. Maybe she’ll be an architect one day. If the little boy is more interested in an Easy-Bake Oven than a Spider-man play set, that’s okay too.

As long as they both do well in school, of course…