Recently, headlines about Jenny Willott, Consumer Affairs Minister were in most newspapers.
“Parents who dress their daughters in pink are holding back the economy, says minister” was the Telegraph headline.
Jenny Willott had been in an MP debate at Westminster Hall when she spoke about gender stereotypes and how they affect our children as they grow up and choose career paths. “Girls and boys take into the classroom assumptions that they develop as part of playing,” the Lib Dem minister told MPs.
“Boys who have routinely experienced the sense of accomplishment associated with designing and building something, which can often can come from playing with what would be seen as a boy’s toy, feel more at home with subjects such as maths and science, which utilise such skills more,” she continued.
“By the time they get to university level, boys and girls are strongly segregated in some areas with, on the whole, boys dominating in the subjects that can lead to the most financially lucrative careers.”
Gender stereotyping is something I feel strongly about. It’s so huge in my mind that I haven’t really talked about it on here – there’s just too much to say and so much angers me. In the past, I haven’t even known where to start.
The fact that so many kids’ toys are put into a “girls” category (often tea sets, pushchairs, art sets and dolls) or a “boys” category (often pirate ships, Lego, science kits, cars, trains and dinosaurs) is just inSANE. And it’s something that campaign Let Toys Be Toys has been fighting against since December 2012. They say that both boys and girls are missing out on developing important skills because they don’t have access to a wide range of toys and play experiences.
“How toys are labelled and displayed affects consumers’ buying habits,” say the people behind the campaign. “Many people feel uncomfortable buying a boy a pink toy or a girl a toy labelled as ‘for boys’. Other buyers may simply be unaware of the restricted choices they are offered. They may not notice that science kits and construction toys are missing from the “girls” section, or art & crafts and kitchen toys from the “boys”. If they’re never offered the chance, a child may never find out if they enjoy a certain toy or style of play.”
And even when the same toys are offered in both categories, often the packaging and colour is changed, with pink and a photograph of a girl on one, and blue colours and a photograph of a boy on the other…
Heaven forbid a girl might play on a *shudder* blue drum kit.
In our house, with a three-year-old daughter, we have lots of pink toys – we have a buggy, a Little Tikes car, an art easel, a kids’ table, a scooter, princess accessories and puzzles to name but a few. We also have lots of toys that are other colours – a wooden train set, a blue shopping trolley, a red shop, a wooden kitchen, a red bike, blue and yellow cars. I think we do a pretty good job of buying a variety of toys for our three year old, and I know at her pre-school they encourage the girls to play with dinosaurs as much as they encourage the boys to play in ‘home corner’.
Many of our pink toys have been bought for us by friends and relatives. I’m not anti-pink toys, providing they’re part of a much wider variety, but what I do object to are pink coloured ‘domestic’ toys. Kitchens. Irons. Cooking sets. Vacuum cleaners. I’ve often said to my lovely husband that if someone were to buy our daughter one of these items in pink, I’d firstly smile and bite my tongue as it was unwrapped and secondly, replace it with a non-pink version at my first opportunity. If pink is used as a colour “for girls” by toy manufacturers (and we’ve already established that it is) then using this colour on domestic toys is surely teaching young girls – no matter how subconsciously – that domestic toys are for girls. Because cooking and cleaning are jobs for a woman, right?
*screams silently into a pillow*
It doesn’t even make sense anymore for pushchairs, dolls, toy cots and the like to be coloured pink. Thirty/forty years ago, men typically weren’t hands-on with their babies and young kids (I’ve been kind of horrified when my mum has described how she changed ALL the nappies when my brother and I were babies. But that’s how the world worked back then) But now, most dads are as hands-on with babies as mums are – changing nappies, making up bottles of formula, walking around for hours in the middle of the night with a crying newborn. So there’s no reason for baby dolls and accessories to be pink – yet they all are.
The subconscious messages continue with boys’ t-shirts and PJs being illustrated with superheroes or space and girls’ being illustrated with princesses and fairies. My little girl? She has Rapunzel PJs but she also has Spider-Man PJs.
We need toy manufacturers and toy shops to stop with the gender stereotypes and wake up to the effect they’re having on kids – and our future doctors, lawyers, engineers, scientists. Many are starting to listen to Let Toys Be Toys, with changes being made in Boots, Marks and Spencer, Debenhams, Morrison’s, The Entertainer amongst others. You can sign their petition over here.
But back to Jenny Willott and the headlines that surrounded her comments at the MP debate…
“Parents who dress their daughters in pink are holding back the economy, says minister”
Despite my strong feelings on gender stereotypes, I dress my daughter in a lot of pink. Why? Because it’s a nice colour. That sounds flippant, but I genuinely believe that as a parent who ensures my child has access to a wide variety of toys and playing experiences, it’s OK to dress my daughter in pink. I should probably clarify here that she also wears red, purple, blue, green, yellow, orange, black, brown, white, grey and any other colours you can think of.
Pink has always been one of my favourite colours (yes, I realise it’s probably because as a child, I was conditioned to believe that pink was for girls) and even now I am drawn towards pink flowers, pink iPad cases, pink wallpaper. Oh and I’m coveting this pink spring coat from Matalan.
I could refuse to dress my daughter in any pink. After all, the more little girls wearing pink, the more this gender stereotype is reinforced, right? But I feel strongly that we should live in a world where gender stereotypes don’t exist – toys should be for children, regardless of what kind of toy they are, and children should be able to wear any colour they like. And that means dressing my daughter in pink – as well as every other colour.
My three year old plays with cars, trains, tea sets, dinosaurs, a kitchen, a bike, dolls, footballs… and she wears pink. And I’m OK with that.
I have a boy who is 3 and his sister is 14 months older, there is a very definite blue/pink divide in our house. If Melody has a pink thing he will ask where his blue one is, even if it doesn’t exist!
If I get Melody’s clothes out and there is no pink, she says, ‘they’re not mine, where’s the pink?’
This issue doesn’t bother me, maybe I don’t really see the wider picture. I’m not offended if there’s a pink teaset but a blue car, the kids what pick they want to play with and generally it does fit in with the gender stereotyping, but they do swap and share too. When they grow up I cannot see Melody being told what to do by a boy or being a housewife, she is a little madam.
I dress her in all sorts, tartan shirts, jeans, black clothes and a lot of pink. She hates it when I put her in a shirt and jeans, she says she looks like daddy.
Sounds like you have a brilliantly well rounded family! 🙂
Kitty has a natural tendency towards pink and purple and hates blue because it’s ‘for boys’ (she tells me. Which makes me want to scream as we’ve always given them a multitude of colours to play with and on clothes, never girly and boy stuff in the sterotypical way. When they were babies it would be easy to find toys and clothes in very unisex type colours but as they are growing it’s getting harder and harder. For Ozzy it’s not so bad, boys clothes seem to be in a multitude of colours but I am often disappointed at high street shops girls clothes collections.
It just goes to show that no matter how many options we give them, they pick up on gender stereotypes from other kids. My daughter announced to me recently that football is for boys. I was a bit horrified by this!
It is incredibly unnerving the whole issue of gender specific toys. That said, it’s incredibly interesting to see how our little bear seems to have an innate love of looking after her dollies, putting them in the toy highchair/cot/pram/changing nappies etc etc. she soothes them, shushes us when they’re sleeping, reads them stories. I totally ‘get’ the need for non-gender specific toys but seeing her role play is very very interesting… And apparantly natural. What an interesting subject, thank you!
I bought my little boy a kitchen when he was about 18 months old, my husband was unsure, not because its for girls as such but he didn’t think he would really play with it, he LOVED it, it was only a cheap one so when my little girl was born I knew I wanted a new one eventually, for her second birthday we got her a nice wooden one but we picked the blue version, shock horror a girl with blue, but she thought nothing of it. shes definitely a girly girl and I do admit I love having a girl for all of the pink but that doesn’t mean she never touches the ‘boys’ toys, and equally I often find Harry playing with the dolls and still now at nearly 5 he loves playing with the kitchen.
It really is such an interesting topic and I’d not really thought too much about it until very recently. We give Monke cars and trains, but also a pushchair, a dolls house and a kitchen. He loves all of them and they all teach him different skills so why they need to be defined by boys toyrs or girls toys is beyond me. The worrying thing is that it isn’t just us as parents who define our children’s opinions on this issue. they pick up so much from the world around them and because the gender stereotypes are so strong in our culture it seems hard to avoid it. Very tricky! I’ve just written a post about this to link up with The Prompt by MumTurnedMom. You should link up too. http://mumturnedmom.com/2014/02/20/the-prompt-6-pink/ 🙂
Hubs pointed out to me recently that people assume that babies dressed in pink are girls, and babies in any other colour are boys, I told him this was nonsense then last week I took C (aged 15 months) out dressed in a red top and denim dungarees and got two boy comments (“ah look at the cute little boy” etc). Drives me mad! L is now 7 and went through a massive pink, princess, fairy etc stage when she was younger, but I’m delighted that she is now into Harry Potter which I think is a far better role model. Thank goodness she’s a tree climber and stunt woman too or the pink princess think would have killed me!
I don’t think gender is conditioned by the colour of clothes your children wear or the colour of toys they play with. My daughter was given the choice of two bikes as her birthday present. The white and pink one with sparkly tassels from the handlebars and tiny fairies on it, and the red one with black wheels and a superhero boy on it. Pick the pink one my heart was screaming, but no, she wanted the superhero one. My son, on the other hand, loves dressing up in the pink fairy outfit and will always chose the pink plate for dinner. My daughter doesn’t care what colour the plate is. I have bought fire engines for my daughter and fairy wands; a doll’s house and a train set for my son. I LOVE pink, but am happy that my daughter also chooses other colours to wear (some of her friends look like marshmallows all dressed head to to in pink). I think we should just let children be children and let them decide.
Oh my goodness, gender stereotyping! I shudder every time I see pink domestic appliances too – when I was looking for a kitchen set for my boy as he fell in love with a friend’s at their house, I was disgusted to see on Ikea’s toy section words to the effect of “get a work bench for your future DIY guy, and a kitchen set for your future hostess” Really? Gordon Ramsay anyone?? My 5yo daughter loves pink, princesses, fairies and all that stuff, despite having spent the first 2 years of her life playing pretty much exclusively with trains, cars and building blocks at the childminder’s house. It just happens to be what she likes, and I have to respect her choices. I rarely buy her overtly “girly” toys, and I think she gets a great sense of accomplishment from me cheering her on for reading, or her artwork, or her headstands. She doesn’t have to build blocks to feel she’s achieved something. And my 2yo loves cooking (they both do), wearing his sister’s necklaces, and playing with trains and cars too. We should let them explore and express themselves as much as possible before they are pigeon-holed lated by society. Hopefully they will have developed strong enough opinions to like whatever it is they like. Great post Alison.
Such a big issue. I love and support the Let Toys Be Toys campaign. That said, based on having loved my toy cars and Lego when I was a child, I’ve ensured M has Lego (mos def not pink, why would they do that) toy cars and a really cool wooden train set. M could not be less interested in them if she tried. As for pink, I dressed her in an array of colours other than pink – including lots of blue cos it suited her – but these days she loves pink (and purple). I guess my thoughts are that though we should avoid gender stereotyping, we should also support and celebrate the gender differences. Feminine, beautiful women who love the girlie things in life can also be kick-ass successful entrepreneurs, business women, career women or whatever they want to be, we just need to show them the possibilities and allow them the chance to fly high
Great post – and it’s soooo interesting to hear how many people say their children follow the blue for boys/pink for girls rules, even though the parents discourage this. While I think it’s right to gently challenge stereotypes when they come out of the mouths of babes, I do wonder whether dismissing children’s early colour choices is a good idea. After all, most children want to fit in and find a ‘place’. If they do that through pink and blue when they’re tiny, and become more secure because of that, then the exploration of gender issues, feminism and stereotyping can all come a bit later.
Reading this post has made me realise that I have very stereotypical views, this is how society has conditioned us. I have a 6 month boy and I always joke with his dad about things like, ‘ what if he chooses to do ballet’ or ‘what if he wants to be a fashion designer over something manly such as an engineer’. But there is nothing wrong if he wants to do those things, as long as he is happy. My husband did say to my son the other day ‘if you want to do ballet, I don’t mind because I love you’ I thought that was really sweet, and quite a big deal for my husband, but we will see if he still feels the same if my son chooses to do ballet when he is older.
My marriage is a much more modern one compared to my parents. My husband does all the cooking, he tends to do all the ironing too. And like you referenced, he changes nappies, baths our son, feeds him and on a Saturday morning will get up with our boy and leave me to have a lay in. I hope with our little one growing up in a household where chores are shared rather than them being woman’s work, he will have less stereotypical views.
Very very late to this post (just discovered your blog – hi!) but I agree 100% with this post. It’s scary how much gender stereotyping is ingrained in our consciousness, to the point where we sometimes just don’t notice it. I’ve bought my daughter clothes from the so-called boys’ section before, because she loves dinosaurs and pirates, and it really makes me sad that in 2017 those things are still considered gender-specific.
Pink domestic toys are THE WORST. “Pink is for girls, these hoovers and saucepans are pink, therefore domestic chores are for girls only!” Ugh. Husband took our little girl to the toy shop a few months ago and she wanted a hoover. Husband went for the mini Dyson style one in yellow and grey (exactly like our adult-sized one) instead of one of the many pink ones available. I was impressed!