Should boys play with toy guns and girls play with dolls? Or, putting it another way, should boys play with dolls and girls play with toy guns? There is a great deal of debate on the subject of toys and gender stereotyping, with people very much divided into one camp or another. There is certainly no escaping the fact that, no matter where you look, items associated with boys will generally have images of football, the army or superheroes, with copious amounts of blue to emphasise the fact that this is all for boys, whilst the girls' sections will be adorned with glamorous icons, fairies and flowers, with pink daubed wherever possible.
But is this right? Do children tend to become drawn towards these colours and images because they are told to by society from the day they are born, or do they have naturally different tendencies that are so deep seated and established that our social and cultural stereotypes are in fact nothing more than an outward reflection of that understanding?
It is, certainly, very difficult to answer the question with any degree of certainty, and there is much debate and much evidence on both sides to suggest that each is valid. Perhaps, however, there is a more important point to raise, and that is this: should boys be allowed to like pink things, play with dolls and have tea parties, whilst girls be allowed to wear blue, kick a football around and pretend to shoot their friends in an imaginary battle?
Anyone who has, or has had children, will be aware that children play with whatever they find around them, and at a very early age their curiosity will be open to whatever is available. The fact that they are generally bought blue toys if they are a boy, and pink for a girl, will simply mean that as they develop they'll tend to associate those colours and styles as representing their ownership, but if a mixture of toys is available, then they will have no more care of the colour than if the toy in question is your expensive mobile phone or the toilet brush. Whatever is to hand becomes a toy in the hands of an infant.
My little boy has often played tea parties with his various teddy bears, and the beautifully multicultural scene of a small boy sharing his tea with a bear, a donkey, a sheep a creature from outer space and a giraffe seems perfectly harmless to me. Later on he'll probably use one of them to beat up a dog or use to stand on in order to reach something he's not allowed. He's not old enough yet to either understand what a gun is, or to have been given one as a toy. But even now, I feel that slight anxiousness about whether I would actually buy him a gun, or let him feel drawn towards one.
When I was growing up, I had a cowboy's outfit, several cap guns and a large box of toy soldiers. My sister had endless numbers of toy dolls which did everything from shut their eyes to wet their nappies, and we each seemed content with our own toys, and neither of us had very much interest in the others'. And yet, I can think of no good reason why not. The social skills she practiced are just as relevant to me today, just as the desire to survive is relevant to her.
Perhaps the solution is to let the child come to the toys, rather than forcing toys upon the child, but to allow the child free reign to choose those that feel right to them. Where this feeling will come from is another matter, and certainly a diet of television will do little to eradicate any social stereotyping that may exist.