Stroll down the toy aisle at your local
department store and the prescribed
gender stereotypes are clear: fighting
or making other mayhem for the boys,
donning tiaras and doing sparkly crafts
for the girls.
Many would say it has always been
so. But some warn children are pushed
toward more masculine and feminine
gender “boxes” than ever—with
potentially harmful results.
“It’s important to think about what
messages we send our kids if we start
forcing them into some of these roles that
are at the extreme ends of the gender
spectrum,” says Dr. Rebecca Sullivan,
director of the Women’s Studies Program
at the University of Calgary.
Sullivan says hyper-gendered toys
give unhealthy messages that boys need
to deny their sensitive, creative sides,
and girls need to be passive and pretty.
KEEP IN MIND
Children are often pushed into masculine
and feminine ‘boxes’
WRITTEN BY GREG HARRIS
ILLUSTRATED BY MICHAEL BYERS
Not so long ago, Lego was Lego,
Kinder Surprise was Kinder Surprise,
and the toys in a Happy Meal were
just toys. Now, girls have their own
version of Lego in pinks and pastels, the
chocolate eggs with the toys inside now
have a pink version aimed at girls, and
boys’ and girls’ toys are offered at the
Gender stereotyping goes well beyond
toys. Even summer camps set masculine
and feminine standards at ever further
Way too many summer camps
encourage boys to go skateboarding
and mountain biking and girls to
play princess and get mani-pedis,
“On the one hand, we tell our boys
that they need to participate in high-risk
activities, while the girls are told to stay
inside or they might break a nail. There’s
no chance for kids to try different things
or for some of these activities to cross-
pollinate when they’re so delineated.”
A healthier approach is to let kids
stretch their wings in childhood. They
will figure out their likes, dislikes and
strengths by trial and error and trying
all kinds of activities.
“We need to be mindful about what
subtle or not-so-subtle messages we’re
giving our kids when we use playtime
to reinforce gender roles,” says Sullivan.
Accepting and encouraging kids’
interests in arts, music, science and math
empowers them to discover their own
unique strengths and abilities, regardless
of gender. Shaming children about their
choices can lead to low self-esteem,
depression, addiction and even suicide.
It’s even more dangerous when shaming
turns into bullying and homophobia.
Sullivan adds it’s all too easy to
Children thrive when they’re accepted and
supported, and creative with their gender identity.