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 - Credit: PA

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?

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.'

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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.

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'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.

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