The problem with gender stereotyping and toys – and what to do about it

It is one of the many dichotomies of our day and age that the more vocal the LGBTQ+ movement becomes, the more unicorns and whales and dinosaurs we seem to see in children’s clothes shops. It wouldn’t matter so much if they weren’t completely separated from each other and one side was standing out in pink and the other one in blue.

baby-1697966_1280Whenever I was so bold as to have my daughter dressed in a jumper with foxes on it, I would invariably get asked by strangers in cafes or at Tesco’s :

– “Oh, how cute. What age is he?”  

And her granny would ever so often harp on:

 – “She looks just like a boy in this jumper (suit, pair of trousers etc.)”

Another time, I had given in to my rebellious nature and fancied buying her a hat with a matching scarf with whales on it and the shop assistant warned me:

– “Are you sure you want to buy this? It was meant to be for a boy…”

When she saw how determined I was, all I got as a reaction from her was a big sigh. I mean, I was actually buying quite an expensive fashion item, so it WAS good for business, wasn’t it?

Yes, that is how off the mark I seem to have been with this. Why did I not buy the glitter, fairy, golden tresses, unicorn… uhm… I don’t know why? 



But anyway, does she really look “like a boy” in these things? If you ask me, she looks neither, actually, no matter what she is wearing. It is what we think the clothes are supposed to make the wearer look like not what the baby in it is magically being transformed into. Babies are gender neutral to start with (which isn’t the same as being neuter).

Will I look like a man because I’m wearing trousers? Well, admittedly my grandmother would have thought so and would never have been seen in anything else but skirts or trousers cut to a so-called “feminine fit”. But we got past that stage so why are we doing this to our babies?

This, in my view, does not reflect the girl’s genetic hard-wiring she cannot escape (I– must-be-Snow White-Sleeping Beauty-Cinderella-Syndrome) but firstly the mind-boggling masses of “stuff” luring even the youngest children into active consumerism and secondly, and more importantly, the way children identify with their peers.

If a girl feels that she is indeed a girl why would she want to play with her brother’s toys if her friends wouldn’t? The point is not that they are unsuitable as such but that the girl is being subliminally made to feel that they are and that she’d be scorned and ridiculed if she played with them. It seems like a difficult cycle to break through.


And what is NOT “green”/sustainable about this?

One aspect certainly is the fact that gendered toys are not deemed suitable to be passed on to younger siblings if they are of different sex and it also countermands social justice and equality, and this is probably the major aspect. The following image emerges: society is divided into two (and strangely enough only two?) types of people, one progressive, active and aggressive, the other one quiet, docile and caring. Did we not move on from that?

Another aspect is that it also reverberates into adulthood and is directly linked to the choices people make in later life, the gender pay gap and women turning out to be an easy target for the cosmetics and dieting industry.

First and foremost, we can try and avoid limiting your child’s interest right from the start by giving in to the gender stereotyping.

Whenever this topic is discussed, participants very quickly split into two camps and you will hear the mother saying, well, I tried all the boys’ toys with my girl but she still wants to be the princess dressed up in pink. Let’s have a look at the sentence again: Boy’s toys? Well, that is the problem right there. She did not say, just toys, did she? Any toy?


For some time, campaigns have been run, to urge manufacturers and retailers to curb the stereotyping which is very much a marketing ploy. Opinions are very often divided in this respect, but we do have to see it for what it is: a cultural label, not an inherent genetic programme that is about to unfold as the child grows up and just cannot help it, and which makes one sex ill-suited and the other fit for purpose. It is what we think it is according to a cultural convention. And this is very powerful indeed.

  1. To find out more, visit the Let Toys Be Toys Website and sign up to the news blog.
  2. Give your child all manner of toys to play with to fuel their imagination even from an early age. There are lots to do out there!
  3. Try and find a toy shop that sells toys from sustainable manufacturers and resources such as Plan Toys, Hape or Best Year’s Toys.

Have Fun!

Josephine xx

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