Raising boys and girls ― the non-sexist way

Let junior try different toys and experiences ― don’t let retailers influence the way you parent your child!

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Toy-makers, book publishers, film and TV producers, plus advertisers all exploit gender differences to make money. Usually, this takes the form of feminisation. Recently, Lego abandoned its long-held gender neutrality to launch toys aimed specifically at girls with a pink-boxed “Lego Friends” line that features a dream house, splash pool and beauty salon. US protestors gathered a petition with 50,000 signatures calling on Lego to change its strategy.
         Child psychologist Jennifer Wills agrees that all this is purely commercial pressure to sell things. The most important way to prepare your child for any stereotypes and hurdles they may encounter, she points out, is to give them well-rounded experiences to boost confidence.

“I loathe gender marketing. I think it’s negative for both sexes, sends terrible messages…”

         
         “Pink toys tend to lean towards tea sets, doll’s pushchairs and miniature ironing boards, reinforcing the idea of ‘women’s work’,” Wills notes. “Actually, toddlers of both sexes love to pretend-play what they see in real life. Little boys get just as much out of pushing a dolly in a pram as a girl.”
           Amy Chin, 33, mum to Thea, 4, couldn’t agree more. “I loathe gender marketing. I think it’s negative for both sexes, sends terrible messages and I hate how insidious it is,” she adds. “Thea recently saw an ad for an aquarium and said she didn't want to go, as it was only for boys. When I asked why, she said it was because of all the blue water!”
         Don’t just laugh at that thinking. “We can’t deny gender differences, but we do tend to exaggerate them unnecessarily,” notes Jane Pilcher, a senior sociology lecturer at the University of Leicester in the UK. You can spot the girls’ aisle in toy shops a mile off, thanks to all the bright pink boxes. The world is reinforcing stereotypes and narrowing the world for your daughter, if everything is about “prettiness” or “domesticity”. Similarly, it’s restricting for boys to live in a mash-it-and-bash-it blue world.       

Read on to learn ways to avoid falling into the gender-stereotyping trap…