Picking Toys: Gender Specific vs. Gender Neutral; Just Play!

Every Tuesday, at 3 pm, I collect my two –year- old grandson  from nursery school and we play until his dinnertime, about two hours later.

One of our favorite outdoor activities is walking around the neighborhood looking for trucks. We get very excited when we see one; we point and wave, and discuss the truck’s color and size, spreading our arms wide when the truck is “so big.” The real bonanza is seeing workers at a construction sight, gardeners, or tree surgeons.   Give us a sidewalk being dug up, a house being renovated, a driveway being paved, a lawn being mowed or a tree being pruned, and we are truly ecstatic.

These truck drivers and workers – men and women- wave and smile back.

On a recent visit, too cold to play outside, I baked muffins with Simon. I created a makeshift apron with a dishtowel so he wouldn’t get batter all over his shirt. A few days later, I bought fabric to make him his own apron, sized to fit him. It’s something I did for my children when they were small and they wanted to help in the kitchen.

I found the perfect fabric: bright blue fabric decorated with trucks!  Simon is thrilled with his apron.  

I didn’t think, oh, I’m gearing him toward a career in construction. Or that by selecting this “boy” type fabric, he’d never cook a meal. I expect he’ll find his own path in time.

Which brings me to some recent news articles that focus on gender-specific toys and the ageless debate about nature versus nurture.

Lego, the Danish plastic block company, announced its new line, geared toward girls. http://www.businessweek.com/magazine/lego-is-for-girls-12142011.html

They’d concentrated products on boys the past several years; deciding that girls wouldn’t play with kits featuring space aliens and ninjas, in addition to the traditional police and fire stations.  Now, they’re hoping to lure girls back, adding “Lego Friends,” which include new pastel colored blocks, girl characters, and models to build a horse academy, a salon, and a café.

In New York City, elite elementary schools are embracing block play.http://www.nytimes.com/2011/11/28/nyregion/with-building-blocks-educators-going-back-to-basics.html?scp=3&sq=kyle+spencer&st=nyt

(I hadn’t realized they had been removed from classrooms.)

Hamleys, London’s 251-year-old toy store, has replaced its pink and blue sections, favoring more gender-neutral signs designating interest not gender. http://www.guardian.co.uk/lifeandstyle/2011/dec/13/hamleys-steps-towards-gender-equality

As parents with young sons, we tried not to buy them play guns.  No fools, they’d commandeer any stick or block into a pretend weapon.  Our daughter didn’t play with dolls or stuffed animals, but still insisted on having a Barbie and an American Girl doll. Our eldest son’s  security blanket was a soft clown doll.   Legos and other building toys kept the boys busy for days. Unable to replicate what appeared on the boxes, they threw everything together in big bins, blocks of all types, action figures, toy cars and trains; all became props in pretend play.  And all three loved to bake.

The other day Simon picked up his baby sister’s lime-green camel. It would be hard to find a more gender-neutral stuffed animal. He placed it on the floor, and moving it along like a train, said, “Choo- choo.” To which my daughter-in-law quipped,  “Now we know what a camel says.”

What’s important afterall, is playing.  There are enough role models around in the 21st century for children to realize both genders can do most jobs.  A stuffed camel can be a train. Blocks can create castles with princesses and swordfights.  And aprons can have trucks.


About cyclingrandma

I was a journalist (Danbury News-Times, Ct), before becoming a teacher, and continue to write for professional journals. I have written several study guides for Penguin Books and write for Education Update, a newspaper based in New York City. (www.educationupdate.com). I’ve interviewed many authors, college presidents, and scientists. I wrote “The Kentucky Derby’s Forgotten Jockeys” for Smithsonian Magazine's website, www.smithsonian.com. (April, 2009). Two essays have been published in book anthologies; one for Wisdom of Our Mothers, (Familia Books) and the other in “College Search and Parent Rescue: Essay for Parents by Parents of College-Going Students.” (St. Martin’s Press). I was a middle school Language Arts teacher for more than 10 years and have just completed a five year grant position under No Child Left Behind in Newark, NJ public schools. I have three children, two daughters-in law, and six grandchildren. I'm an avid cyclist, knitter, cook, and reader. I love theater, museums, and yoga.
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4 Responses to Picking Toys: Gender Specific vs. Gender Neutral; Just Play!

  1. When I saw the pink Legos, I was very happy. My son loved Legos and to have one for girls is a major step. I do not think they are sexist.. We spent hours putting together very intricate sets mostly they were boy themes-pirates, spaceships and trucks. I have even constructed the Starship Enterprise. The key is learning and playing. My son’s teacher even allowed them in class and for Show and Tell. My son’s loved his Macy’s Snoopy and slept with it until it fell apart. It was replaced by the Macy’s Pooh. It also fell apart. The head came off. Soon, we did not need a security blanket to fall asleep.


  2. We weren’t UNABLE to replicate the legos, we made the models and THEN threw them all together.



  3. Leah says:

    Oh boy, I’ve researched this topic so much. And like you with your grandson, constantly witness it with Sophie. It’s incredible how much money and focus goes into gender-izing toys from toy companies. Read “Cinderella Ate My Daughter” by Peggy Orenstein. She write all about it. I also wrote a post a few years ago with that similar tone: http://leahsthoughts.com/2010/07/19/gender-distinctions-start-early-really-early/


  4. Pingback: Taxing Tampons: A Call to Feminists? | cyclingrandma

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