Poll: Do you think children’s toys, books and clothing should be gender neutral?

Library picture of girl with toy. Photo credit: John Stillwell/PA Wire Library picture of girl with toy. Photo credit: John Stillwell/PA Wire

Saturday, March 29, 2014
8:14 AM

Sugar and spice and all things nice, that’s what little girls are made of... and slugs and snails and puppy dogs’ tails, that’s what little boys are made of – or are they?

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For years tradition – based on gender – has dictated what our children are more likely to dress in, play with, read and watch.

And although some things have changed, such as boys being predominately dressed in pink during the Victorian era, one thing is still clear – many of our children are being made to conform to gender stereotypes.

But does this have a negative impact on these young minds or is it just a rite of passage?

For one Norfolk lecturer the message is clear – “We need to put a stop to it.”

University of East Anglia lecturer in literature and public engagement, Dr BJ Epstein, issued the warning claiming that the impact was detrimental and could lead to individuals making unfulfilling career choices.

“Children do not come out of the womb wanting to play with specific toys based on their gender,” she said.

“From my research, parents still really think girls are firmly one way and boys are firmly the other way.

“But children are not aware of gender until they start to become more socially aware – so not until they go to school at five or six, or if their parents really emphasise it.

“Neuroscience research shows there is not a huge difference in girls’ and boys’ brains.”

She said girls predominately receive positive affirmations about their appearance while boys are praised for their actions. “For example, a girl can be told she looks pretty in her new dress; however, a boy will be told he was brave going down the slide.

“By talking to them in different ways it can make them try to do certain gender-specific actions to seek approval.”

Bookseller Waterstones recently took action following growing 
pressure from campaign group Let Books Be Books.

The retailer has agreed not to market children’s books which promote limiting gender stereotypes.

Supporter of the campaign, Norfolk MP Elizabeth Truss, said: “I think children and parents should have a free choice of which toys to play with. When toys like chemistry kits or building bricks are in the ‘boys’ section’ this can lead girls to think maths and science aren’t for them. This is a problem as these subjects are great for young people’s career prospects.”

But what can be done to combat the problem?

Dr Epstein encouraged people to write to shops, toys and clothes manufacturerss and book publishers to make them rethink the marketing and packaging of their products.

She also highlighted more training for teachers to emphasis offering pupils the same opportunities.

Perhaps most importantly though, Dr Epstein emphasised that whatever your child’s preference it is about balancing and not overcompensating.

She said: “If a girl wants to have ballet lessons, that’s fine; the same if a boy wants to wear blue.”

• What do you think? Write to the Letters Editor, with full details of name and address, at Prospect House, Rouen Road, Norwich, NR1 1RE or email edpletters@archant.co.uk.

17 comments

  • My daughter loved Thomas the tank,climbing trees getting mucky with the dogs,making dens,wearing pink,and pretty clothes,Lego ,not keen on dolls but loved cuddly teddies,why on earth can't these people let kids be kids. They will find their own interests .these so called experts need to stop inflicting their insecurities and ideas on other people.

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    Reader

    Saturday, March 29, 2014

  • "Gender neutral toys" - does that mean pink guns and tanks & blue prams? Get a Life, for goodness' sake. Oh dear ... sounds like the prof. has too much time on his hands. Totally gender neutral and the race might have died out before Epstein. Oh dear.

    Report this comment

    Patrick

    Sunday, March 30, 2014

  • What utter clap-trap! How much is this gender neutral person paid to come up with this sort of nonsense?

    Report this comment

    peter waller

    Saturday, March 29, 2014

  • Good job these experts aren't doing anything important or dangerous or we would all be in trouble. Bless her.

    Report this comment

    smithrob

    Saturday, March 29, 2014

  • just what exactly is wrong with girls being girls and boys being boys.......?!

    Report this comment

    catalonia13

    Saturday, March 29, 2014

  • So far correspondents have been polite - good restraint. Go away and play with your toys ...

    Report this comment

    Patrick

    Sunday, March 30, 2014

  • So far correspondents have been polite - good restraint. Go away and play with your toys ...

    Report this comment

    Patrick

    Sunday, March 30, 2014

  • So which toilet does the perfectly gender neutral child go to?....Will the teachers be allowed to guide, or would that be seen as imposing gender stereotyping.

    Report this comment

    Rhombus

    Saturday, March 29, 2014

  • Yet another " expert " grabbing fifteen minutes of fame. How does a lecturer in literature and public engagement ,whatever that is, claim to have such knowledge of children. Why do girls play with dolls and boys not. Simple, because they choose to. That is what my extensive " research " has shown.

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    norman hall

    Sunday, March 30, 2014

  • What a load of fuss about nothing! Only loony right-wingers care about this sort of thing. My son used to play with his sister's dolls more than they ever did, and they played with his tanks and trucks.

    Report this comment

    Cyril the Canary

    Sunday, March 30, 2014

  • Your column asks, 'So what can be done to combat the problem?' There isn't a problem and there hasn't been for years. My ex wife, who is now in her early 60's loved her Meccano set far more than dolls, and grew up to be a successful. accountant. My current wife, in her mid 50's, loved her Barbie dolls and grew up to be successful in programming, working for a well known car manufacturer. Gender stereotyping and glass ceilings meant nothing to them, they just did what they wanted. I fear that the real problem is people like Epstein manufacturing many of these alleged problems to justify their otherwise pointless existence.

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    Labratone

    Sunday, March 30, 2014

  • I had to vote other....because although I believe toys and books should be gender neutral I don't believe clothes should be. Children should be encouraged to become individuals through their own choice. My grandsons all loved pinks and purples especially the bright colours and often chose shocking pink trousers or vivid purple tee shirts and likewise my grandaughter wears blue!

    Report this comment

    loriong

    Saturday, March 29, 2014

  • This doesn't mean everything should be beige. Girls and boys should be able to play with toys *as they wish* - if this means many girls want princess dresses and dolls or boys want diggers and trains, fair enough, but they should have the choice and not be bullied for choosing toys or even colours that have historically been associated with the opposite sex (as does happen). It depresses me to shop for my baby girl and find that the girls' section mainly has t-shirts with flowers, cupcakes and dolls on them, while the boys get dinosaurs, tigers and robots. Of course they should all exist, but why couldn't a boy like cake or a girl like robots? Why should any baby not head to toe in pink be assumed to be a boy?

    Report this comment

    littlesharpie

    Saturday, March 29, 2014

  • What a load of codswallop.

    Report this comment

    Ar ya reet boi?

    Sunday, March 30, 2014

  • Quote - Norfolk MP Elizabeth Truss, said: “I think children and parents should have a free choice of which toys to play with. When toys like chemistry kits or building bricks are in the ‘boys’ section’ this can lead girls to think maths and science aren’t for them. - unquote Haven't noticed signs saying boys section or girls section in any toyshops in Norwich. Next time I go to the one in the arcade I'll double check to see if my boy really wants a doll instead of that lego set.

    Report this comment

    expat

    Saturday, March 29, 2014

  • Why is this clap-trap? Explain.

    Report this comment

    Toxteth O'Grady

    Saturday, March 29, 2014

  • What a lot of cobblers, vive la difference

    Report this comment

    watchdog

    Saturday, March 29, 2014

The views expressed in the above comments do not necessarily reflect the views of this site

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