Do gender biased toys and activities really influence children’s views as they grow up?
Gender neutrality is a very topical debate at the moment, and an interesting one too..!
Does the difference in the way we talk and interact with boys and girls from an early age, along with the toys they play with and the environment they live and learn in, really have life long impact on their development? It’s something that the education sector, along with parents, play a big part in as children are steered and influenced during their learning and development.
What difference to gender neutral schools make?
Swedish schools have been following a gender-neutral philosophy for many years. In Sweden toys in classrooms aren’t divided into gender groups, posters are without gender bias and children are encouraged to express all their emotions freely. In fact they even have a gender neutral pronoun ’hen’ — which is used instead of han (he) and hon (she). Although it was introduced in the 1960’s and only made it into the dictionary 2 years ago!
These efforts in Sweden are now being evidenced in research, where it has been found that children who attended a gender-neutral preschool were less likely to be influenced by culturally enforced gender stereotypes compared to children in other preschool environments.
At a time when we think the world is becoming more open minded and less sexist, it’s hard to believe that the toy industry is more gender biased than it was 50 years ago. The overt marketing of toys as either girls or boys toys for commercial gain is very directing and gives visual blocks to both genders.
So does this actually matter?
A recent BBC documentary highlighted that there are few biological differences between a male and female brain to support the differences shown in behaviour and opinion between boys and girls. Essentially these significant differences are learnt from ‘nurture’ not ‘nature’ as previously debated. When the children were interviewed ‘anger’ was the only emotion that the boys could describe, and the girls had such low self belief that they thought the boys were better and stronger than they were. Fascinatingly these observations were very consistent and clear amongst the class of seven year olds taking part in the experiment.
It was shown in the documentary that this early gender stereotyping is reinforced by their environment and their influencers, that is both the toys they play with and the adults they interact with. Without realising it we all use gender specific language when talking to children, and we often play in very stereotyped ways, albeit without intention.
What needs to change?
Regardless of your opinion on gender neutrality, there isn’t really any debate when it comes to removing barriers and limits to what children can access and explore for themselves. We should be giving children the most opportunities possible and exposure to all experiences and learning, for boys and girls to fully flourish.
At Twoey we believe that all toys and equipment, furniture and resources should be accessible to boys and girls, to stimulate their imagination and encourage an open minded and full learning experience. Our design team work hard to ensure this philosophy is reflected in our furniture and educational resources. All of our product ranges are designed in a variety of neutral colour schemes, they are deliberately without gender bias in their style and visual appeal. We believe they offer the same stimulating learning experience to all children and we will continue to develop new products with this open minded philosophy.
As a child you have the potential to take on the world so let’s give them the whole world to conquer, not just some of it.