It’s half term already and finally it’s beginning to feel like autumn. A quick stroll into town reminds us of all the celebrations that happen at this time of year; the shops are full of Halloween paraphernalia, there are reminders it is nearly Bonfire Night, and of course, the countdown to Christmas has already begun. People I know who are much more organised than I will ever be, use this half term week to do their Christmas shopping. They are already wondering what to buy the children in their extended families. Whilst chatting about appropriate toys for young children, one of them reminded me of the BBC clip which showed an experiment on adults’ perceptions of gender appropriate toys. Adults were asked to play with babies using a range of available toys; the adult choices were very clearly influenced by what they perceived the gender of the child to be, mostly because of how the babies were dressed. We are not given details about the sample size however the findings are said to suggest that those babies perceived to be boys were much more likely to be given toys which developed both their physical confidence and their spatial awareness.
If it is common practice for adults to consider the child’s gender when engaging them in play then I suppose this begs the question, why might this matter and what might the impact be? For example, is it such a big deal if girls are offered dolls more than boys or boys are offered building blocks more than girls? Kolmayer et al (2018)suggest that indeed it does matter because of the way that certain toys develop specific skills which may, in turn, continue to reinforce gender stereotypes. If no adult is taking responsibility for disrupting these stereotypes, then the potential of that child is being limited. This is interesting when we consider that the most recent Girls’ Attitude Survey found that when girls (11-21) discussed their aspirations for the future, 67% of them believed they did not have the same opportunities as men. Do these opportunities begin to be kept from them as they play as babies through the toys they are offered?
Skilled adults will look to disrupt these practices by offering children a wide range of toys to provide for a variety of play experiences. In this way, they are suggesting possibilities to children which could impact on aspirational choices children make as they get older. Skilled parents will also consider how their children are being targeted as ‘consumers-without-agency’ who must fulfill gender-specific roles such as the nurturing female and the heroic male. If, on the other hand, we choose not to disrupt these gendered scripts we are contributing to reinforcing those stereotypes which benefit very few in society.
So what’s it going to be? Will you police or disrupt gender scripts this Christmas? It’s never too early to start!