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Can picking a toy for Christmas be sexist?

The winter season is loved worldwide for its association with winter holidays, especially Christmas. Even if you and your family do not celebrate Christmas, it is impossible to ignore all the hustle and bustle around this particular day. No one can be indifferent to millions of Christmas lights, wreaths, decorated eves, shiny wrappers, Christmas music playing repetitively, and other signs of the upcoming event filling up towns’ streets, shopping malls, coffee shops, restaurants, and individuals’ houses.

Regardless of the original religious context of this holiday, about 81% of non-Christian Americans still celebrate this day. Like any other big holiday, Christmas has largely become an occasion for spending money. It is even considered the biggest spending holiday with consumers spending billions of dollars. Reasonably, it’s a perfect time for buying toys as presents for the youngest members of families.

Unfortunately, when it comes to choosing the appropriate toy for a child, average parents still lean on gender stereotypes and biases. What is the best gift for a 7 year old girl? The ToysRus’s Christmas advertisement campaign of 2020 says that it’s a teddy bear and baby doll, while for boys, they show a knight costume and a construction set.

Choosing more spatial awareness games and complicated puzzles for boys and soft toys and dolls to girls, prioritizing they learn about care and nurture rather than self-confidence or cognitive skills has become a habit

An experiment, conducted by BBC in 2017 (click here to watch), proved there is a correlation between children’s genders and the toys adults chose to provide them with. The experiment consisted of dressing three children stereotypically as the opposite gender and named accordingly. Four adult volunteers were supposed to play with them for a certain time, and a bunch of different toys including dolls, plush toys, construction sets, cars, and robots were available to pick from. As expected, both female and male volunteers’ choice of toys for a certain child was based on its assumed gender. Only at the end of the experiment, when the kids’ real genders were uncovered, did the volunteers realize and admit their gender-biased choice of toys. They felt like the bias was subconscious. This experiment perfectly represents how gender stereotypes are still strongly rooted in our minds and are expressed even in our own kids.

But why should we avoid gender stereotypes when buying a Christmas gift for our kids?

The toys’ choice may seem innocent and unimportant, however, by getting your children gendered toys you are not only perpetuating gender stereotypes and roles you are also influencing their development, personality, and dreams. Moreover, when these children grow up, the perspectives they have acquired on gender may have a huge impact in developing toxic masculinity or chauvinist views about society and women’s issues.

Playtime helps kids develop skills and gain interest in the topics that they are presented with. Therefore, it is the parent’s responsibility to offer their children toys that will break gender biases and stereotypes. This means, for example, boys could get a doll as a gift while girls could get a construction set.

Moreover, the tendency to develop caregiving skills in girls influences the fact that they often prefer jobs related to communication and providing assistance in the future. Meanwhile, boys, who are more likely to get toys related to competitive behavior or math aptitude development, tend to choose more analytical jobs and get higher positions there.

To avoid such significant consequences, which strongly influence gender inequality in adults’ lives, society must reduce the influence gender stereotypes have on children. One of these stereotypes is the choice of toys based on gender.

How do we fight gender-related biases regarding toys?

The best idea, to help kids develop multilaterally - would be to give children a choice. Children should be able to safely discover the world through playtime, although it is essential to allow them to develop both caregiving and building skills simultaneously. Let them have the opportunity to play with a car now, a toy kitchen set in a few hours, and to solve a puzzle tomorrow, no matter if they are a boy or girl.

Children should be able to safely discover the world through playtime

Research conducted in 2003 titled ”The Effects of Stereotyped Toys and Gender on Play Assessment in Children Aged 18-47 Months” showed that girls are more likely to choose gender-neutral toys, while boys chose stereotypically male toys.

Furthermore, according to this experiment, children of both genders spend more time playing with mechanical toys than those related to the kitchen and the house, which shows that kids tend to play with complex and varied toys regardless of the stereotypical attachment to gender. So why do we ignore their will and divide toys instead of accepting that all toys are for everyone?

Despite the current fight against stereotypes in various fields, gender-biased advertisement continues to influence children’s choices as well as parents’ perceptions of their kids’ preferences. The end of the rule “pink for girls, blue for boys” and the marketing tools that divide toy stores’ departments into boys and girls could help to reduce society’s reliance on these stereotypes.

By joining SafeUP, you and your girls will be surrounded by a supportive and understanding global community free of stereotypical convictions and judgments. SafeUP is created, run, and joined by women who are ready and motivated to change the world and its perceptions about gender by showing that women and girls deserve equality even in such seemingly unimportant things as toys.

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