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Should Toys Be Gender Neutral?

Nowadays, you can't walk into a kids' store without seeing a clear divide: boys' stuff is blue, and girls' stuff is pink. Should toys be gender-neutral?.

The Woman Post | Carolina Rodríguez Monclou

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According to the Institution of Engineering and Technology (IET), "89% of girls' toys are pink, but only a small number are focused on science, technology, engineering and maths (Stem)."

When did pink become a "girl" color?

For centuries, all kids wore dresses and grew on them until the age of six or seven. However, this wasn't just because little kids look adorable in dresses, but it was practical. Toilet training was much more comfortable in a dress in diapers since the fasteners that held the pants in those days weren't easy for kids to use.

It took kids much longer to grow out of a dress than a pair of pants, which meant parents didn't need to spend as much money on their kids' clothes. In the late 1940s, when the concept of the ideal American family took shape. Men were expected to join the workforce, while women were expected to stay at home with the children.

Retailers and marketers started packaging more feminine products in pink, and mothers began buying them up. From that point forward, pink was associated with femininity, but it wasn't until the 1980s that the line between boy and girl colors became clear.

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For the first time, parents could find out the gender of their baby before its born, expecting parents wanted to shop for their new baby, and businesses realized that pink and blue could make them some serious money.

There's a pervasive idea that the differences in toy preferences between boys and girls are a socially constructed phenomenon taught from a young age. Those supposed societal pressures not to exist, boys and girls would like the same toys.

There are two sides to this argument, and the phrase nature versus nurture can sum them up. The nature side claims the differences in girls' and boys' choices of Hot Wheels or Barbie are rooted in fundamental biological differences in hormone levels and brain structure and are not a learned preference.

The nurture side claims that what's important is what these kids are exposed to in gender-conforming messages from parents, peers, and society. Essentially, that boys and girls are conditioned into liking trucks or dolls.

Do boys and girls differ in their toy preferences?

If given a selection of both, will a divide emerge between males and females in their chosen plaything? A study made by Berenbaum and Hines in 1992 shows that children, either male or female aged three to eight, were places in front of a line of toys such as trucks, dolls, and books.

Each child was allowed to play with whichever toy they liked for 12 minutes, and the amount of time each child spent playing with each toy was recorded. The boys spent significantly more time playing with cars and construction blocks than dolls and kitchen supplies, and the girls showed more variability in their preferences.

Based on these results, it looks like male and female children differ in what they like to play with, but the critical question is, why?

Kids today are exposed to lots of advertising around them that reinforce what it means to be a boy or a girl, including what colors they should wear. However, it is important to let kids express themselves and play with any toy they like.

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