So yesterday I started babbling about segmented toys. You know...pink stuff, blue stuff, girl's toys, boy's toys. What IS the big deal? After all, girls and boys play differently right? Toys should be different to some extent? Right?
Sure, kids play differently, because boys and girl learn differently. Many parents who've raised both sexes will tell you that girls usually master language sooner (hence role-playing games like "house" and doll play) and boys tend to have the advantage in spatial skills (Legos, blocks, building toys,). So there's nothing wrong with boys and girls playing with different of toys.
The issue is with the gender messages being sent by many of the toys that are marketed exclusively to boys or exclusively to girls today.
For girls there's Bratz, Barbie, Hannah Montana, Disney Princesses, and Polly Pocket, to name a few. All of these toys are centered around a few central ideas: let's do our hair, let's put on makeup, let's get dressed up, let's have a party, let's sing, dance or put on a fashion show, let's design clothes, let's put ourselves on display.
For the boys we've got Power Rangers, Star Wars, Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles, Hot Wheels. Anyone remember Masters of the Universe? The messages are: let's fight, let's race, let's be tough, let's compete, let's gross someone out, let's take over the world, let's beat up some people. (How scary is the dude on the right, btw? I wouldn't let my 5-year-old see Spider-Man 3 because of him, even though the movie was marketed to kids that young.)
And since most toys today are based on television or movie characters, kids already have ideas of how these toys should act. So where does that leave us?
Hmmm. Hundreds (thousands?) of toys, all sending the same sorts of messages. Millions of kids, just getting settled into the awareness of their own gender, all very likely to identify with the actions of these toys and internalize the gender behaviors...I no likey
It would be one thing if there were only a handful of toys pushing these limiting messages, but have you walked through a toy department lately? This stuff is pretty much all you can find. For the aware parent or caretaker who wants to add a little variety to the toy box , the search can get real frustrating, real quick.
But you don't have to take my word for it. Just take a stroll through the toy department of any store and experience it for yourself. Try it. It's entertaining.