We have seen a growing number of social awareness campaigns led by NGOS and public bodies towards the promotion of “non-sexist” toys in recent years, especially in the run up to Christmas. Although it is great that society is becoming more and more sensitive to the idea of diversity in play, these kind of actions do not start from an accurate point of view and can be misleading.
- "Let’s strive for an educational model that puts diversity at its core" - Andrés Payà
Toys themselves (understood as objects that promote and enhance play) are not sexist per se. There is no such thing as a “boy’s toy” or “girl’s toy”; a child can use all kinds of toy and can play with them in very different ways.
However, despite the fact that toys don’t have a gender, we do still see some TV ads and toy catalogues that show only images of ‘traditional’ play patterns - girls with dolls and boys with cars. Such examples represent an image far removed from reality that does not do society, or children, any favours: isn’t it true that men are parents and women drive?
The key to making sure that all children can get the best from play is to educate and promote a self-led and spontaneous play, free from adults’ constraints and ideals. A large number of educators and toy companies are doing a great job to improve the situation by encouraging children to play with toys that are traditionally bought for the other gender.
There is still a long way before we overcome some of the negative stereotypes we see in play. To succeed we must go beyond the toys themselves. We need to challenge the cultural and educational elements that contribute to this differentiation between what is play for girls and for boys.
We need robust educational actions and a powerful bottom-up pedagogical approach able to activate the development of cooperative attitudes and behaviours among children at a very early age. This must include respect for gender differences and equal relationships between girls and boys during playtime.
As a society, we need to work together towards the promotion of a varied range of toys that boost gender equality among children, especially when it comes to the development of their skills and expression of their feelings. Let’s offer children a varied range of toys based on positive and equal gender values. In other words, let’s strive for an educational model that puts diversity at its core.
We need to offer new patterns and new models of relationships between gender through the exchange of new tasks and roles during playtime, to transcend the traditional gender division. To allow all children to reach their full potential, we need to avoid negative evaluations of certain social roles and facilitate girls’ and boys’ access to toys that traditionally have been vetoed.
Finally, we need to dismantle a series of clichés when it comes to children’s choices of their toys, which do not stem from the fact of being born with one sex or another, but from the particularity of their own personal and individual preferences. An arduous task that will pay off over time, allowing every child to play, learn and enjoy regardless of their gender.
Andrés Payà Rico, PhD in Pedagogy. Professor and Director of the Department of Comparative Education and History of Education at the University of Valencia (Spain), he is also a founding member of the Observatory of Children’s Play (OJI). His research is specialized in the pedagogical, social and political repercussions of play and toys and he has published numerous articles and monographs in this field. See more about his work here.
The views and opinions expressed in this publication are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the official policy or position of Toy Industries of Europe. Responsibility for the information and views expressed lies therefore entirely with the author.