When my baby daughter arrived I couldn’t wait to introduce some pink to the house. Her two older brothers had made the house very boyish. I bought some pink outfits and pink toys and then the novelty quickly wore off.
I realised soon enough that my baby daughter didn’t care what she wore or played with, she was just a little person like her brothers. And as time has gone by I want to make sure I bring up my three children the same way. I don’t want to treat my sons or my daughter any differently to each other just because they’re boys and a girl.
Which is why children’s toys and clothes baffle me slightly. I’m amazed at the huge gender differentiation. I know boys and girls are different, it would be stupid to argue otherwise. But do they have to be completely different?
I was asked to give feedback on a television ad campaign for a popular toy recently. “Great advert,” I said, “But why can’t girls play with it too?” I couldn’t see why only boys should be seen to play with the toy which was being advertised. As a girl I would have loved to play with it.
And this is common with most toy advertising. There are toys for boys and toys for girls, with the exception of the occasional board game. You may think that’s been the case for a long time and there’s nothing wrong with it. But along with the prolific advertising these days comes the values we’re instilling in children.
Television advertising for boys is often high octane and macho. It’s usually based on conflict, competition or shooting things. Adverts for girls mainly focus on their creative and nurturing side. But why can’t boys be creative and nurturing? And why can’t girls be competitive or shoot things? Listen to the voiceovers on the two types of adverts and you’ll realise that toy companies are talking to boys and girls in completely different ways.
I don’t speak to my children at home differently, I like to keep everything as consistent as possible with allowances for age and personality. I accept there are big differences between boys and girls but I don’t see why toys, clothes and advertising should widen the gap any further. In their own homes girls will play with their brothers’ toys and boys will play with their sisters’ things. Sometimes they don’t like to admit it and that’s a shame in itself. Maybe the result of toy companies telling them what they ‘should’ play with.
Maybe we don’t need to worry about the long-term effects of this gender specific marketing we see these days. After all men will be men and women will be women. But in an age where we’re striving to achieve equality can it help that the media is encouraging us to raise boys and girls with such different values?
It’s the parents’ decision how we bring up our children and how we treat our sons and daughters. And as parents we can limit the exposure our children have to the aggressive marketing of boys and girls toys. But as our children get older we have less control over what they see and marketing techniques are becoming ever more sophisticated.
Is gender specific marketing from such a young age something to worry about? I don’t know. But I do know it makes me uncomfortable.
What are your experiences and opinions of gender differences in toys and clothes?