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Keeping Gender Equality on our Kids’ Play Agenda

December 16, 2015

Research shows that gendered marketing is now occurring at unprecedented levels. Even in the 1950’s when gender roles in the adult world were more separate, toy marketing was far less gendered.

But it’s not just toys that are subject to gendered marketing – that’s only part of the picture…

Corporations and retailers are placing an emphasis on gender differences right from birth when they begin colour coding pink and blue. Everything from nappies, bibs, ‘baby care’ kits, bedding, clothing, body wash, toothbrushes, vitamins, pencil cases, money boxes – you name it, it’s being marketed separately ‘for boys’ and ‘for girls’. In fact colour choice seems so limited, it’s increasingly difficult to find consumables in colours other than pink and blue. What about the rest of the rainbow?

As parents we spend so much time opening our children’s eyes to the world. Music lessons, sports, swimming, art classes… We encourage them to try new things, to believe they can ‘be whatever they want to be’ if they put their minds to it and work hard at it.

Then corporations spend millions advertising the exact opposite message.

We’ve all heard a child – or an adult – tell someone in the playground, park or shopping centre that ‘Star Wars is for boys’ or ‘Pink is a girl’s colour’ or any number of other stereotyped notions about what boys and girls like, can be, or do…

Advertising works.

Any actual differences are amplified as if on steroids. Boys and girls spend less time playing together because they are taught they can’t share the same toys or interests.

They don’t attend one another’s birthday parties. Boys distance themselves from anything ‘girly’ for fear of being teased, sometimes calling one another ‘girl’ as an insult. Because they see girls as being inferior, no boy wants to be like one? What are the implications of this way of thinking? And what do girls make of this?

Retailers limit the options for everyone when they divide toys into categories of ‘boys toys’ and ‘girls toys’ . Worse than that, they use gender stereotypes reminiscent of the 1950’s to decide who gets what – anything to do with domesticity, beauty and nurturing is filed under ‘Girl’s’ where as the ‘Boy’s’ section contains toys which encourage action, violence, building and construction.

When did it become okay for retailers to perpetuate stereotyped ideas, sending such limiting messages to our children about what boys can do, or like, or play with? What girls can be, what their interests are?

Toys are the tools of the trade when it comes to play and learning, and different toys encourage the development of different skills. Building and construction toys teach the beginnings of basic maths, help build spatial awareness, encourage design and engineering concepts. Dolls and soft toys encourage nurturing skills and empathy. These are all great skills for life that everyone can benefit from learning. Why would we want to limit the development of skills and interests based on gender?

We’re advocates of choice.

We don’t want our kids imaginations, colour choices, skills sets or perceptions limited by corporations who show no interest in what’s best for our children’s development. So we’re taking a stand.

Studies show the impacts of gender stereotypes are far-reaching. They limit our children’s ideas about their own capabilities and the capabilities of others – now and in the future… Feeding into more serious issues like gaps in education outcomes; the pay gap; the levels of violence in our communities.

So, as all the ‘gift guides’ saturate the market this December, think about the bi-products they’re peddling. Your children are beautiful little individuals. Remember this. Encourage this. What’s best for your children is your decision, take it out of the hands of retailers.

#GiveGiftsNotStereotypes

Post By Thea Hughes (16 Posts)

Thea spent more than a decade working in a heavily male-dominated industry, inspiring her to begin her formal studies in gender at Sydney University and found Play Unlimited. As a mother, she is passionate about diminishing the impact of gender-based marketing on the next generation.

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