In recent years there has been a lot of dialogue and some obvious progress towards gender equality in the adult world. More women have moved into the work place and public life, young men especially in nuclear families are willing to take on a greater share of domestic chores and gay and transgender people have fought strongly, often successfully, (Recently India’s Supreme Court recognized transgender people as a legal third gender) for greater rights and visibility. Yet when it comes to the world of children – the toys they play with and the clothes they wear (of course if you have them!) – gender continues to play a defining role. Many people especially parents have begun questioning this culture. Some girls like blue, some boys like cooking, some girls like Maths and physics, some boys like cars and fashion and, so on. For some children who do not meet the criteria of the polarised ideal this can lead to feelings of confusion, failure and isolation. As Dr Elizabeth Sweet, a sociologist and lecturer at the University of California observes, “Studies have found that gendered toys do shape children’s play preferences and styles. Because gendered toys limit the range of skills and attributes that both boys and girls can explore through play, they may prevent children from developing their full range of interests, preferences, and talents.” When kids are offered equal choices from an early age, it logically follows that they will continue to expect and demand equality in their personal, social and professional lives. Spurred by this movement and with a hope of making a positive difference, if not increasing sales with another pitch, many toy/clothes manufactures and retailers have joined forces to tackle the issue Some campaigns like Britain’s “Let Toys Be Toys” have been very successful; around 14 retailers have committed to end gendered toy marketing. Here’s a look some at some of the campaigns that are changing the narrative.
Built on the premise that Toys are for fun, for learning, for stoking imagination and encouraging creativity and that children should feel free to play with the toys that most interest them, Let Toys Be Toys is asking the toy and publishing industries to stop limiting children’s interests by promoting some toys and books as only suitable for girls, and others only for boys. It is encouraging them to sort and label toys by theme or function, rather than by gender, and let children decide which toys they enjoy best.
Toca Boca makes gender-neutral game apps for children. It has had 70 million downloads in 169 countries, including Saudi Arabia. They are second only to Disney for children’s downloads in Apple’s App Store. (Interestingly, Apple is one of the few retailers to organise children’s apps by age instead of boy and girl categories.)
Sewing Circus is all about clothes that offer choice and childhoods full of discovery, bright colours and fun. They don’t agree with the use of exploitative gender stereotypes to sell clothing, and believe children should have the choice to determine and wear their favourite colour, theme and style.
They are an eco-friendly, mom-owned children’s clothing store that got fed up by the lack of choice in clothing options for their daughters and sons. In 2007, they decided to do something about it and have been turning gender stereotypes upside down ever since. They believe that colors (such as pink and purple) and active imagery (such as firetrucks, tool belts, and electric guitars) belong to everyone and should be mingling, not dividing up along gender lines.
Sick of having to struggle to find girl clothes without bows or glitter, or boy clothes sans Spiderman and T-Rexes, a group of mothers and fashion designers came together to found Clothes Without Borders. Built on the premise that both boys and girls should have access to clothes that don’t rely on gender stereotyping, 10 mothers, at the helm of 10 different children’s clothing brands, took a stand against ‘boxing children in’. Wanting girls and boys to be able to express their broad interests through their outfits, this project is aiming to create a wider range for children to choose from and to help remove the stigma around breaking free of gender stereotyping.