To be a woman or a man is something that you learn. It’s not (only) about being born with certain biological characteristics. It’s more about what we are taught that girls and boys do, think, feel. And it starts very early. Playing with certain toys is an important step towards fixed gender roles that usually are not in favor of the girls.
We learn not only from books and from teachers, we learn also from playing. The games and the toys we played with as children shaped our way of thinking. They stirred our imagination and fashioned our hopes for the future. We know this now. But still, when it comes to gender roles, there’s little that we, as adults, do to inform the way our children view the world.
Research done in developmental psychology at the University of Kent investigated how the toys each gender is supposed to play with impacts the children and the skills they develop.
During the experiment, the children were exposed to images that showed boys playing with cars and other gender specific toys and girls playing with dolls and other similar toys. Others were shown children playing with toys that were not specific to their gender. Afterwards, the children were asked to choose the toys with which they wanted to play. Those from the first category were inclined to respect the same gender roles suggested by the images to which they were exposed. The others were open to play with the toys of the opposite gender.
This experiment suggests the impact that media images have on the attitudes that children assume when it comes to the toys and the kind of games they are supposed to play. When encouraged to play with all kinds of toys, children develop a large range of skills. And they are more likely to develop them later in life.
Forcing a child to play to specific toys according to their gender will limit their abilities. Therefore, they will have a hard time later on to develop the skills they were taught that are not essential to their gender.
These rigid attitudes towards gender roles are mainly in the disadvantage of the girls. But little boys suffer as well. They don’t get to acquire communication and social skills that could make social interactions easier when they grow up.
In other words, when children are encouraged to play all kinds of games, with no strict gender limitations, everyone wins. Please, share this!