When I walk into my local toy store, I immediately know which aisles are for boys and which are for girls. One side is filled with spaceships, trucks, telescopes, and Legos. The pink-washed side features pretend cleaning supplies, play kitchens, and Barbie dolls. Girls and boys are consistently sold very different types of toys, and in the long run this may prevent girls from discovering all the opportunities that are available to them. If girls play with a wider range of toys, they will feel empowered to do more.
As a 15-year old girl, this subject is very close to me. When I was a child, I was fortunate that my parents let me play with an array of Legos, Barbies, Lincoln Logs, science kits and stuffed animals. I had a very well balanced toy collection and I thank my parents for exposing me to so many options. Parents have the privilege to help their daughters grow, and show them that they can build AND imagine.
Children today spend a great amount of their time playing with toys, which are models of what is happening in the real world as well as markers for what a child’s life will be like in the future. Toys help children “try on new roles, experiment, and explore interests,” according to Susan Linn, a psychologist at Harvard Medical School. However, experimenting and exploring is difficult when toys are strictly predetermined by gender. Parents tend to stick to the societal norm, buying toys for their children that seem “right” for their kid’s gender. From a young age, “toy marketing tells kids who they should be, how they should behave, and what they should be interested in” says Linn. Girls and boys are different, but their interests and capabilities are not mutually exclusive. Parents have an essential role in helping their daughters see past the preconceived, restrictive notions of what a girl “should” be. Giving girls toys that do not solely fit their gender stereotype shows them that they can be who they want to be, and do what they want to do.
Girls’ and boys’ toys tend to have opposite colors, themes, and messages. Girls’ toys often focus on nurturing, which build their domestic and social capabilities. Boys’ toys are usually more educational, which develop their spatial skills, or the ability to “generate, retain, retrieve, and transform well-structured visual images,” according to Duke University’s Talent Identification Program.
Both boys and girls are missing out on important lessons that could be learned from their toys. This differential in skill development focus leaves young girls at a educational disadvantage. While girls are receiving important lessons from their toys, they may not be developing their spatial skills at the same rate as boys. Most toys either focus on nurturing or building, but very rarely both at the same time. This can be debilitating to a girl’s future when careers in math and science heavily depend on spatial skills.
In order for girls to live to their fullest potential and seek any future they desire, it is necessary for them to have familiarity with as many skills as possible. But a multitude of abilities is important for boys too! Toys are at the epicenter of childhood, and it is imperative that all children are given playthings that will teach many principles, as well as challenge and excite them.
I believe that gender disparity in the toy industry is a significant issue, and it is why I have chosen to spend my summer interning at Build & Imagine, a toy company that is combatting this problem. I hope that all children can walk into a toy store and feel comfortable and inspired shopping in every aisle. It is so important for the future of young girls today that they play with toys that foster a broad range of skills. A girl should feel empowered to pursue any field, including those in science and math, and ensuring that she has the right toys is a great first step.
Build & Imagine’s Marine Rescue Center- Shop Now
Young minds will develop foundational STEAM (science, technology, engineering, art and mathematics) skills with this magnetic building + storytelling playset that bridges left and right brain play. Construct the magnetic panels into a building or boat, then take the included doll Thea on a sea worthy adventure to rescue and rehabilitate her marine animal friends. The Marine Rescue Center works with other Build & Imagine play-sets too, so you can grow your story alongside your child’s budding building skills.
Build & Imagine’s Career Dolls- Shop Now
Want to inspire her to dream big while providing hours of imaginative play? This small but mighty set of wooden dress-up characters comes with 79 magnetic accessories and two backgrounds scenes to inspire kids to dream of 12 action packed careers, including video game designer, space explorer, chef, super hero, president, and police detective. The vinyl carrying case it comes in makes it travel friendly.