Who says toys are made specifically for boys or girls? Can they not be played with by anyone?
When I was growing up, I played with Barbies and Cabbage Patch Dolls, which I still own. I also played Lego, and got sets that were both typically “boy” and “girl” – these have also stayed with me. I think as time has gone on, it’s become more acceptable for girls to play with typically “boy” toys, if it happens to interest them. That’s one of the benefits that has come from a greater sense of equality for women.
But does it work the other way around? I get the impression that it’s less acceptable for boys to play with “girl” toys, or have “girl” interests. You may note I keep putting those words in quotes – it’s because I don’t like the idea of separating some things by what gender might be most attracted to it, because that might give the opposing gender a sense of not being accepted or normal if it happens to catch their interest.
I have two sons, but no daughters. I’ve done my best to not discourage behaviours or interests just because they happen to be something that is seen as more typical for girls. For my eldest son, that came in the form of his favourite colour being pink (which it still is today), and wanting to wear necklaces and nail polish. His interest in nail polish got beaten down in his kindergarten when the other kids teased him about wearing it, and his current school (he’s just started primary two) has a strict policy against it on all children no matter their gender. At least they’re consistent. Still, I think he’s a little traumatised from the teasing, since the last time he tried nail polish (at the Hello Kitty park we went to in Johor at the beginning of the year), he wanted it removed almost immediately.
Earlier than that, we used to have neighbours with daughters close to his age, and they had a stroller for dolls. It was one of his favourite toys to play with when he visited, and so that Christmas, he ended up with one in his stocking. It was pink, because it’s rare to find one that is not.
The stroller has proven popular for my younger son, also. A year ago, he was using it for all manner of objects, collecting them as if he were a magpie. These days, he puts my Cabbage Patch Dolls in it. They had been boxed up in a cupboard until he noticed them and requested for them to be taken out. He’s fascinated by babies, so it’s not really a surprise that he wants to play with toy ones.
There’s also a special children’s playroom in the complex we live in, where he likes to go, which has more dolls for him to choose from. The last time we were down there, he was throwing them around, as boys are sometimes wont to do. I asked him to stop and told him it was better to give the dolls a cuddle. He might like to throw things, but some toys are more appropriate for that than others. I figure dolls are not appropriate, given their resemblance to humans. I wanted to foster compassion there, so he will grow up considering how best to treat people.
Lo and behold, he picked up the doll, gave it a cuddle, and even kisses. Watching things like that is some of the sweetest experiences I have as a mother.
If you’re a parent, what choices do you make when it comes to the toys your kids play with? Do you think gender differences matter? Have your kids ever been subject to teasing because they made a choice that opposed their traditional gender role?