Toy stores segregate the sexes

// 23 November 2005

Last week, I posted about how to have a gender-savvy Christmas. But Women’s E-News has picked up on one element of this that I didn’t touch on. Something at the very centre of the Christmas consumerist binge. Of course, I mean how to fill a kid’s stocking without entering the murky world of pink frilly things for girls and trucks for boys.

Caryl Rivers and Rosalind C. Barnett examine the dirth of choices available in the usual Toys ‘R Us outlets, and the pernicious effect all this gender-stereotyping is having on young children.

“These toys teach girls who is in charge, which activities are ‘natural’ and ‘good’ for boys and girls.

“These lessons are learned by age 4, according to Glenda MacNaughton, associate professor of education at the University of Melbourne, who has conducted extensive research on equity issues in childhood. A rash of new studies shows that boys and girls as young as 3 or 4 years of age indeed do get the gender-difference message.

“In the pre-school world, boys are in charge, say a number of studies done by educators and social scientists. Boys appropriate the most active play areas, and they tell girls what they can and can’t do. Boys are learning that they are supposed to be the dominant sex and that they can treat girls as submissive and acquiescent.”

All this is very well, but if you’re shopping for the short people in your life, what option do you have?

As Rivers and Barnett note, and a trip to a UK toy store will only confirm, traditional outlets tend to strictly segregate boys and girls in a system where “girls are pretty well immobilized”.

They say: “In its newspaper supplement catalog, Toys “R” Us offers no pictures of girls on its sports page. Boys, meanwhile, are seen playing basketball, riding an arcade-style motorcycle and playing an electronic hockey game. No girls are seen in two pages of action-figure toys, nor in two pages of cars and trucks.”

Any suggestions for alternatives would be more than welcome, especially as I have three relatives under the age of 12 to shop for this winter!

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