Parents, please: enough with the “we’re just giving kids what they want.” Children learn through play. Segregated toys are inhibiting kids’ brain development by severely limiting their experiences. Children’s brains have more plasticity than at any other time in life, that’s why they can learn languages rapidly. Once those synapses make connections or shut down, its harder for brains to grow later. Read more about all that here. And here. And here.
What can you do? Resist marketing. It’s messing with your kid’s brain. You are the parent. You’re the shopper, the one with the wallet. Buy wisely.
Get your daughters out of the monochromatic world of pink. Or any monochromatic world. Your kid may resist. This may be a challenge for her because kids love routine. But, still, challenge your kid with toy choice the way you would with any other learning activity. Help them to branch out and encourage them to try new things. Get excited about the toy. Play with it with them. Most of all, they want your attention.
Schedule play dates with kids of the opposite sex. If your kid’s preschool tends to segregate by gender, or allows them to self-segregate, talk to teachers and the head of school about mixing it up. Kids learn when they move out of their comfort zone.
Read your sons books where the main characters are girls.
Show your sons and daughters animation where the main characters are female (Miyazaki is a great choice.) After we all see “Tintin” or “Lord of the Rings” or “Arthur Christmas” on the screen, the posters all over town, and then the video games that follow and the toys derived from the movies, all practically without females, it seems normal that there are so few girls represented everywhere except for the pink ghetto. The annihilation of girls passes us by unnoticed. Girls are half of the kid population, yet children’s movies today normalize an imaginary reality where females hardly exist at all. Then we all literally buy into it. How do you think that makes girls feel? What does it make kids think? What are kids learning about which gender is more important?
Let stores and toy companies know how you feel about their relentless drive to segment toys by gender in order to sell products. Write to the companies directly. Blog about them. Tell your friends about it on Facebook.
SPARK has just initiated the Toy Aisle Action Project.
We are SPARKing this movement armed with Post-It notes and cameras in the blue and pink aisles. (Seriously, some stores have actually have colored their toy aisles pink and blue! When will it end?) With your Post-Its, make a note using slogans like “Where My Girls At?” in the blue aisle, “Your Girl Needs Joe, too” on a GI Joe, “This Is An Option For Everybody” and “What About Dads?” on the baby dolls.
SPARK advises to use statistics:
women make up only 13% of architects (I wonder why LEGO?), 14% of active US military (Where is G.I. Jane?), and 4% of executive chefs — so, why are all the kitchen gadgets pink when so many chefs are men?
I’ve thought about these kinds of stats a lot, and it comes down to this: if it’s low status, its assigned as “feminine” (cooking), and women dominate; but if its high status, all of a sudden it becomes “masculine” (being a chef) and men dominate. This bait and switch applies to the whole stereotype that boys like action while girls are more literary, good with words, and artsy. Unless we’re talking about the Pulitzer Prize or the latest exhibition at the MOMA, in which case, all of a sudden men rule the roost.
A department store in London, Hamley’s, decided to break out of the current trend and organize its toys by toy type instead of by the gender of the kid: arts and crafts, building toys, outdoor toys etc. Congrats to Hamley’s. Let’s hope the land of the free and the brave and its Targets and Walmarts learn something. In the meantime, parents need to shop carefully.