Swedish toy catalogue goes gender neutral is the toy news this week.
While I am setting up my new website over at drlauranelson.com (visit now to grab your free tips), I am getting an increasing number of requests from readers (students and journalists) for gender and toy opinions and information. For your convenience, I post below some FAQs - hope they help you. If you have any other questions, do get in touch.
Meanwhile, don't forget to visit drlauranelson.com to sign up for free tips and insights into how gender stereotypes affect you.
Why do you think we're so fixated on the notion of what constitutes a boy's toy versus a girl's toy?
Gender identity is probably the strongest identity that people have. From a young age, people see themselves and others as either male or female and subconsciously associate stereotypes. Because gender identity is so firmly embedded, any variation from those stereotypes - which is how we expect a boy/girl or man/woman to look or behave - will be shocking, upsetting or distasteful. Toys represent the type of behaviour that girls and boys are expected to engage in, and therefore there is the same feeling associated with toys. The identification of gender with toys explains the violent backlash reaction to the suggestion that both girls and boys can play with all toys.
Do you think this idea of gender specific toys is becoming less common and, if so, why?
No, I think it's becoming more common. My hypothesis is this: as a society, we have become more openly 'equal'. In other words, in legal terms, there are few barriers to women compared with men because laws and rules have been changed so that women and men now have the same opportunities (in most cases). What remains are the psychological barriers, which are actually much stronger. Women and men and boys and girls have beliefs and expectations about themselves and these are reinforced by gender specific toys. I think as we progress as a society and become more 'equal', these subtle forces grow stronger too, to pull society back to where it was. Human beings generally resist change, so these forces are in place to do exactly that.
What are the benefits of children of either sex choosing to play with the toys that attract them?
The benefits are that children stay open to all activities and ultimately life pathways. In this way, they will ultimately choose a life pathway that's right for them as an individual, not one that fits into their stereotype. So it is widening their opportunities, not restricting them.
What are the disadvantages for children if we restrict them to toys designed for their gender?
They will see life in a narrow way and their expectations of themselves will be limited to that of the stereotype of their gender. So for example, restricting girls' toys to toy prams, hoovers and doll babies conditions them into thinking that domestic life is their destiny. Likewise, giving boys toy trains, cars and war toys will enhance their adventure, risk-taking and competitive skills. That's great, but why can't both genders have access to both?
Are there any particular benefits of boys playing with traditionally feminine toys such as dolls, play kitchens etc
Of course, for the above reasons. It was interesting that arts and crafts was in the girls section, not the boys. Arts and crafts is seen as a female occupation. If boys don't engage with these toys, they miss out on vital skills that have open up opportunities in later life.
What made you feel so strongly about how Hamleys arranged their toys by gender?
The segregation in Hamleys got to the heart of for me why we live in an unequal society. It epitomised the subtle forces that hold inequality in place and are dressed up so cleverly that most people think they are 'choices'. It was symbolic and the campaign I ran demonstrated that. Hamleys changed the signs, newspapers covered the story all over the world the topic was debated for weeks. That shows how strongly people resonate with the topic.