Thursday, 12 June 2014

Time to fight 'Pinkified Toy Blues'

Our world and attitudes are shaped by the most trivial decisions we make in our daily lives. Some of the lessons learnt subconsciously inspired by our simplest decisions may take a lifetime for us to unlearn. The most common is the realization of the concept of gender roles in children at a very tender age when they are blissfully oblivious of societal dynamics.

Children are not born with a preexisting gender identity.  They gradually acquire it via socialization with their surroundings and beings. At a tender age of 1-2 years, they learn most of the things by observation, social interaction and imitation. By this time, they develop gender identity and by ages 3 and 4, have pretty set standards about the two genders, their roles, dressing, attitudes and attributes. Adults have preferences that they try to project on children, like what and whom to play with. When we prefer a girl child to play with girls only and with a certain type of toys, we already begin invoking in her the attributes that her gender role in future will require.

Gender consciousness has become more prominent though in the last couple of decades. During 1980s, children would play with gender neutral toys. Today the toy companies wouldn't let them even if they'd want to. Have you noticed these things when you walk into a toy store?
  • Two prominently bifurcated sections: Girls and Boys
  • Pink, white and purple is for girls; blue and black for boys
  • Iron man is for boys; barbie for girls
  • Workbench tool set in the boys section; nail art and hairstyling kits in girls' 

Toys are an essential part of childhood. Apart from being fun and games, certain toys are helpful in developing cognitive and motor skills in children. These are toys that both girls and boys should play with. As the standard of living has risen, more children have their say when toys are being purchased. And keeping this trend in mind, toy companies have employed a new manipulative marketing strategy which genders toys, completely ignoring the fact that children have unique personalities and choices. Stereotyping toys for girls and boys will only crush these unique personalities and widen the gender inequality gap that we have been trying to fill for decades now. Doesn't it sound like one step forward, two steps back!

Secondly, something as harmless as toys can have lasting effects on children's psyche, now when they are exposed to non-conformist lifestyles like homosexuality, bisexuality, transgenders and the ever fading line between gender specific roles in the labour market. Is this the advent of identity crisis? The birth of a lost generation. A generation fearing to express itself out of the fear of being laughed at or isolated because they prefer different things from the majority. A generation that stops itself to rise above their gender roles merely because it isn't deemed in the right light by the society. A restricted and oppressed generation.

The status quo however has not gone unnoticed thanks to campaigns like 'Let toys be toys' and 'Pinkstinks'. These campaigns throughout Europe have urged mega conglomerates and retailers to stop labeling toys as gender specific. Similar petitions are underway in Australia where parents are asking retailers to stop marketing certain toys as girls or boys only.

That's at the macro level. What can we do at the micro level depends on how fast we stop projecting ourselves on the next generation. The least we can do is buy them gender-neutral gifts that do not shove them into the social gender essentialism maze. It's time to listen to their personalities, give them space to develop and not crush them under the roles they ought to be playing in future. If we want gender inequality and all crimes associated with it to be a thing of the past, we'll have to start from the start.

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