November 4 2013
Earlier this fall I joined Fox and Friends to talk about the growing trend of gender-neutral toys. Specifically a group called Let Toys Be Toys out of the UK has spearheaded an effort to eliminate gender-specific labeling of toys so as “to stop limiting children’s interests.”
So I was disappointed to learn over the weekend that Let Toys Be Toys won a sizeable victory last week when the UK chain Debenhams announced it would remove all “girls” and “boys” signage from their toy departments. Equally disappointing is that the American toy giant Toys R Us has also committed to making dramatic changes to the way it markets toys to ensure it’s “gender-inclusive.”
Certainly most children don’t need much direction when they get to a toy store. If you’ve ever accompanied a child in the toy department, it’s more like a tornado whirling around from item to item, aisle to aisle, with little consideration, let alone concern, for what any sign might read.
And this might not strike parents as terribly concerning. I’m the mother of two girls and a young boy, and like most parents I desire a healthy balance in all of their lives. I want my daughters to enjoy all-things “girly,” while recognizing that they also can enjoy being naturalists and playing tag. Similarly it’s great to see my son enjoy basketball, but I also appreciate that he can play gently with the baby dolls.
But for many feminists, including those at Let Toys be Toys, this kind of balance is not sufficient and hysteria of sorts has emerged over anything that recognizes gender differences. Alarm bells went off over the “Pink and Pretty” culture. Hasbro’s Easy Bake Oven caused quite a stir last holiday season. And who can forget the uproar over those “girl-friendly” Legos?
The real problem is not that we’re eliminating gender-specific signs; it’s the underlying message that society remains inherently hostile and biased toward girls. That without gender-neutral toy aisles, little girls will think all they’re expected to do is bake brownies and play house. (And let’s be honest, no one really cares about the boys!)
Groups like Let Toys Be Toys perpetuate the myth of that society is unfairly holding girls back with no consideration to the tremendous educational, professional, financial, and personal achievements girls and women have made in recent decades. I don’t think any number of Disney princess movies can change the fact that women are earning more BAs, MAs, and now PhDs than men, for instance.
But feminists today are grasping for straws by insisting that equality means we all have to be the same. Let’s stop worrying about the differences between girls and boys and start embracing them!