This post is by Chandrika.
I remember the first time I walked into Hamley’s as an adult. As I walked around the store, I was surprised to see the floors clearly divided into ‘Boys’ and ‘Girls’. It had been a while since I had gone into a proper toy store, and so maybe I just had never noticed it before. I found it quite odd, and a bit unsettling. Going up the escalator, I passed though glitter-makeup-butterfly-barbieland a.k.a. the ‘Girls’ floor and the generally multicoloured, largely mechanical, and frankly far more interesting ‘Boys’ floor. I was mildly annoyed about the divide, but chose to forget about it for the time being.
Years later, Hamley’s has made the groundbreaking decision to divide their floors by type of toy and brand rather than gender in response to a campaign.
I read this news shortly after reading an eye-opening article in The Independent on the effect of gender-stereotypical toys on children, which you can read here . It is both shocking and depressing to think of how both girls and boys are forced into their gender categories from the second the sex of the baby is identified.
What is scarier still are the consequences of these stereotypes. No father really wants their little boy to play with dolls, do they? Though they may not say it out loud, they think it’s, well, gay. And gay or effeminate are unfortunately not generally seen as positive words when describing men. And though parents do not seem to see anything wrong with little girls wanting transformers or superman costumes, it’s just so much easier to go into a pink-coloured section in a toy store and pick something out, right? It’s pink, so she’ll like it…right?
Maybe parents have dreams of their little girl being a scientist or a journalist or whatever she wants, but unthinkingly, by handing her dolls, makeup, and a mini-cooking set while buying her brother scalectrix, the message being sent across is ‘you need to look after things, be pretty, and stay in the kitchen’ while telling boys ‘use your brain, analyse, build things, and have fun doing it.’ I have heard people comment, ‘well, but she likes these things!’ Sure, nothing wrong with that, but have you given her the choice? Did you take your son to the Barbie aisle and let him choose a toy for himself there?
With these issues weighing on my mind, I came to my mother’s house, where I found myself unpacking boxes of old toys.
I felt my heart fill with gratitude.
A poster of the periodic table; a poster explaining how an atom works; bags of Barbie clothes; a microscope set; a poster and videos on the history of ’70s rock music… These were some of the items that I played with during my childhood. These were the things that have inspired me to be curious about the world I live in. Funnily enough, these things defined my life. Age 23, I am starting to look at a career in science exhibitions, and I have a feeling that all those science and art related toys made a serious impact on me. There is nothing about these boxes that scream ‘boy’ or ‘girl’. I suddenly realized something that I had completely taken for granted my whole life: my family had never once, not even once, lead me to believe that I had to do things limited to gender-stereotypes. Not once. They saw me as a person, not a girl.
So there it is. Society can cram all this down our throats and try and tell us what to buy, but in the end, it’s all down to individuals. It’s all down to our wonderful parents who had the power to make that choice. This didn’t mean I couldn’t have Barbies- no really, I LOVED Barbies. What it meant was that I could be interested in whatever I wanted to be interested in.
So parents, I know this new categorization system in toys stores may make it a little harder to find what you’re looking for, but it’s worth it. It means your kid will have to follow you through every section, see every kind of toy that’s available, and in the end be given that wonderful, precious, rare and life-changing gift: Choice.
Chandrika is a part-time Gallery Assistant working in London, with a BA in Art History and Literature and an MA in Art History. She also has her own blog, Keyf Yapmak (keyfyapmak.tumblr.com).