Gendered Toys: The Pink/Blue Divide of Doom

Photography: Marijke Smith

By Lauren Keenan

Before I had children, I was going to be the best Mum in the entire world. Of course I was; I had read a book and seen an article about parenting online.  Ergo, I knew all the answers.

One thing I was never going to do was raise children who believe pink is for girls and blue is for boys. I knew that the pink/blue divide was an artificial construct invented by savvy manufacturers to sell more clothes. I wore dull shades of brown growing up, and wearing “boys” colours didn’t send a stealth signal to my pre-pubescent body that I was to turn into a man instead of a woman. After all, the pink/blue divide has as much grounding in science as the Easter Bunny.

Then, I had a boy and a girl, and things got complicated.

Gendered play and the pink/blue divide are so prevalent in society it’s hard to know where nature stops and nurture begins. Studies with rhesus monkeys show that male monkeys prefer mechanical toys, and female monkeys prefer dolls. To an extent, that’s been my experience: while both my kids play with everything, my son gravitates to monster trucks and trains. My daughter, on the other hand, plays ‘babies’ and ‘cooking’. But, how can I ever know whether or not that’s just confirmation bias at play? Plenty of boys play with dolls, lots of girls love trains, and my sample size of two is hardly representative. Maybe I’m just noticing because it’s a stereotype? My inner feminist was reassured: I was not failing.

Then, my son said he wants to be a geologist when he grows up. My daughter? A beautiful princess. This wasn’t said in a normal voice, either: her eyes glazed over and she twirled as she said ‘princess’. My inner feminist crouched in the fetal position, thumb in mouth. The red haze descended: there are no studies of rhesus monkeys where female monkeys want to be princesses. There are, however, toys and clothes marketed for little girls emblazoned with the word. A clothing chain I once visited had collections for small boys entitled “tough guy”, “tomorrow’s heroes” and “flying high”. The collections for girls? “Mademoiselle”, “folklore fantasy”, “home sweet home” and “autumn princess”. Nice messaging, corporate giants. I blame you and your ilk for my daughter wanting to wear a dress that looks like a meringue on crack.

I realized just how much I had failed in my attempts to resist the pink/blue divide of doom when we received a box of secondhand clothes from a relative. The clothes spilled onto the floor; the children leapt upon them in manner of a crazed feeding frenzy. Without speaking to each other or me, they decided whose were whose strictly along colour lines. Aggressive gender marketing of children’s goods: one point. My ideals: zero. My inner feminist: drowning in the proverbial wine glass of pity.

What, then, was I to do?

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1 Comment

  1. says: Jessica Toonen

    Hello I’m Jess I’m a Mummy to a son who I adore and I to have never given in to the gender based toys. My son unlike your children is very gender neutral himself. He is 3 and I have always bought him whatever he is interested in. His favourite colour has always been purple. I allow him to wear my jewellery, put on my lipstick and wear a head band when he wants to as that is what he asks for. He loves his toy kitchen we got him from when he was 2 and always is cooking in it. He is the best real lil chef in the kitchen with Mummy from since when he could walk. Santa even has to get him a kitchen helper to stand on as he loves helping making breaky, lunch and dinner. He loves playing with his pony and unicorn toys brushing their hair and playing games with them. He loves cats and I buy him a cat top from the girls section of course as that is where they are located in each size as he grows as that is what he loves. Even his pants have cats on them with a pink bow as he wears his unicorn blue and silver sparkly runners. One day in the shop he randomly said can I have a unicorn toy please. So looking around the shop as he has asked so nicely he found a Caticorn toy that I bought for him this was about a year ago. It was a cat his favourite animal with a unicorn horn another one of his favourite things. So that started his love of Caticorns. He now has a small Caticorn he also sleeps with them every night as well as his baby doll which he has always played with constantly and loves even more now that his Mummy is going to have a baby sister or brother for him soon. He said he wants a sister and has said that since he was before two. We just had his 3rd birthday and it was Caticorn themed with a pink unicorn table cloth cat themed and unicorn themed food, a Caticorn cake and him wearing his new Caticorn top saying Alazko is 3 that’s his name with his Caticorn purple headband and sparkly blue and silver unicorn runners. The games were all around the theme and he loved it and had so much fun as did all his friends. Prizes were even tiaras, rings, bracelets and key rings along with lollies and whistles as other prizes and even cat and unicorn themed party bags to take home for each child which they all loved. You would be surprised how many boys were actually really excited about the unicorns. I’m not sure if my son not watching tv has helped him to be interested in what he likes as he has actually never known otherwise. I do feel tv and cartoons are very gender based which could help influence a child’s thoughts on what they should and shouldn’t play with. He still plays with cars and trains although not so much as an massive interest. I guess all I’m trying to say is every child is different and so long as we follow their interests we are raising them up to be exactly who they desire to be we are all doing a great job for them and giving them the respect and opportunity for them to grow up to be whatever and whoever they want to be.

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