I Hate “Girl” Toys at Christmas Time

Its not like Christmas is the only time of year I shop – obviously there are birth day’s and of course the times my kids simply drag me to the toy aisle to beg for things they know I’ll say no to. But this time of year I spend a lot more time at the store and it becomes plainly obvious to me that there is still a huge gap of sexism when it comes to children’s toys.

I mean, there are the obvious things: you still can’t find a baby doll that’s meant for a boy, it’s a rare occasion to find a pink truck, and clearly Ninja Turtles are boy toys and Barbies are girl toys. But then you get into the toys that are starting to represent both genders (I’d say they’re “unisex” but it seems toy makers are still determined to make the girl toys pink & purple and the boy ones blue & black).

Take Legos, for example. They’ve been one of the first brands to really come into the 21st century and realize that, OMG, girls like to build stuff too!! So now you have pink and purple “girls” Legos to encourage girls to explore their inner engineer.

Great, awesome. It’s a big step forward. But then I found myself perusing these Lego sets the other day, and the brand is actually following the same gender guidelines in the 1950’s.

Let me step back a second. See, the biggest and most annoying difference between girl and boy toys to me lies in what the toys do. I’m going to lay it out very clearly here so you see exactly why this is frustrating for anyone raising a girl.

Stuff boy toys do:

  • Build and construct houses or buildings
  • Dig holes
  • Beat up “bad guys”
  • Fight for the greater good
  • Race
  • Play sports

Stuff girl toys do:

  • Live in a mansion
  • Go to the spa
  • Take care of babies
  • Go shopping
  • Hang at the mall
  • Visit the ice cream shop
  • Ride and care for horses
  • Get dressed, then change clothes, then change clothes again and again and again
  • Put on makeup

Do you see me problem?? With the exception of taking care of babies (maybe we can be less sexist with this one, but this is a tough job) and caring for horses, girl toys DON’T DO ANYTHING. Seriously! What is wrong with this picture? Our little boys are growing playing with toys that teach them to build things and save lives while our girls are growing up learning to…bake a pie? Get a massage and facial at the spa? Hang out with girlfriends in a mansion?

The number one way kids learn and grow is through play so this is a big deal to me. And back to Legos, I was so disappointed to see the Lego sets representing the exact same types of activities – sure you get to build, but you’re still making a place for your toys to go to the spa, get ice cream, and a number of other meaningless activities. Where are the girls Lego pirates fighting for their spot on the sea? Or the girls Lego fire truck off to save a house?

My daughter is just getting old enough to start saying certain things are “girl” things and certain things are “boy” things. I want her to grow up believing she can do big things, but that’s hard when the only acceptable toy options in her eyes are Barbie mansions and pools. Barbie doctor is the closest we’ve come to breaking this trend (yes, my daughter has that one), but I want to see Barbie construction worker, Barbie super hero, Barbie police officer!

I’m sure my grandchildren will be lucky enough to live in a world much closer to that, but for now, if you happen to run into someone pissed of and grumbling in the toy aisle the next time you take a trip to Target, it’s probably me.

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7 thoughts on “I Hate “Girl” Toys at Christmas Time

  1. Thank you /so much/ for writing this post. It reminds me of books I saw a few years ago, called the boys/girls guide to survive situations. The boy’s one was about how to survive an animal attack or natural disaster. The girl’s one was about how to survive a friend who’s mad at you.

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  2. I believed as you do when my kids were younger, and still do to a certain extent. We tried finding toys that were more gender neutral, and toys that were more traditional as well.
    My daughter is now 17, and she is the oldest. We would buy the mixed boxes of the Duplos and then the Legos….that weren’t themed a certain way. Partly so these toys could be shared later with other siblings regardless of gender. She liked the Legos, but not as much as her younger brother and he definitely liked the “boy” themed sets. She had some trucks, building type blocks etc. as well that later her brother would play with.
    I think there is a certain nature/nurture aspect to talking about toys. If daughter sees mom getting dressed up, putting on jewelry, carrying a purse…does she want toys that represent that because that is what she sees her mom doing, or is she drawn to those toys because of marketing, or is about something else? If I as the mom do most of the cooking would that have influenced my daughter wanting a play kitchen and play food? I would think so.
    I don’t think there is anything inherently wrong with having a play kitchen, as long as one doesn’t insist that on giving a kid a play kitchen when you know that might not be her thing. I’d like to see less fluorescent pink and branding of things with Disney princesses though.
    I’m not sure play always has to have the aim of modeling “doing something”. I’m not sure all the play my son did was in that spirit or more in the spirit of getting rid of energy and glee in destroying a tower newly built.
    I’m not sure either playing with Barbie type toys is without merit entirely. The clothes changing might be a creative outlet for some, and even the clothes changing might help with fine motor skills.
    As for the Legos, I used to go to ebay to buy girl minifigures to reconstruct some of the minfigures that would come with the themed sets. My daughter and son had a few sets they would play with together. I don’t know if you still can but you used to be able to go to ebay to buy different heads and hair for the minifigures so you could to a certain extent personalize them.
    If I recall correctly Playmobil used to have a lot of sets that were more in the middle in terms of gender, like farm and zoo sets.
    Sorry for the long comment.

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    • All good points – and yes, there is certainly a nature/nurture aspect here. My daughter has matchbox cars and ninja turtles but still has more interest in princesses – I have to let her go with what she likes but i try to introduce her to different things. My son won’t play with anything that doesn’t have wheels lol. So personalities definitely play a role. But he also became interested in a baby doll at the store once (he’s only two) so I got it for him and he did give it a bottle and carry it around for a while. So there are definitely things we can do to help expand their horizons! And there are lots of new toys coming out by smaller companies that are great. But it’s the big, popular toys that still have to catch up. My daughter loves Barbies but it’s almost impossible to find a Barbie set that isn’t about clothes, make up, or a car or pool! The barbie doctor is a step in the right direction but things like that are SO hard to find. Same with Monster High, Legos, My Little Pony, Littlest Pet Shop etc.

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      • These observations are interesting but I can’t help but wonder about…
        1. How have countless outside influences on TV, at school, and everywhere else affected children’s relationship to gender roles? 99% of the time, it is less stressful for the child to conform, even with a relatively egalitarian home.
        2. Could there possibly be some confirmation bias at work here? Like it or not, we drag our own prejudices and mental baggage in all we do – parenting just cannot be an exception. It’s important to be honest about that influence before saying “it’s obviously the child!”

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      • I don’t doubt that – our societal conditioning is so deep that I’m not sure any of us can assure that we never influence our children’s behavior! It’s something we have to work on and live with knowing our children will be better at it.

        Outside influences: absolutely. I can see this with my daughter for sure. She sees girls playing with the so-called “girl” toys and boys playing with the “boy” toys both on TV and amongst her friends. It’s hard to fight that, hard as we might try.

        At the same time, we’ll never be perfect at balancing our desire to help our kids break out of gender roles and letting our kids pursue the things they truly enjoy. We’ve fought hard to avoid the “I’m a princess” attitude with my daughter – with some success – but at the end of the day, she likes princesses. So at what point am I blocking her from something she truly and authentically enjoys vs. trying to protect her from gender conditioning? Sure, her interest is influenced by TV, friends, and society in general. But she also needs to feel a certain level of comfort that it’s ok for her to decide she likes something even if mommy and daddy don’t like it.

        So I agree with you 100%. There’s no easy solution. I think we have to be aware and honest about how our intended and unintended biases get in the way and do our best to raise confident, hard-working kids that feel comfortable engaging in any activity they want to – whether it follows societal gender roles or not.

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