Recently, the idea of ‘gender neutral’ items has been everywhere online and on the news. Whether you’re attempting to pick out a gender neutral toy as a gift for a birthday party or looking at gender neutral clothing for your infant, it can seem more complicated than it needs to be if you don’t truly understand the idea.
Quite simply, a gender neutral item is a product that is not being marketed to either a boy or a girl. This may include toys, clothing, furniture for the nursery or bedroom, books, and more.
You may find that these items are produced in brighter primary colors, or that the pastel colored items are in shades of yellow and green instead of pink and blue.
Stores may not sort the items into ‘Boy’ and ‘Girl’ sections, and may instead lump them together into a single category such as ‘Infant clothing’ or ‘Toys for 0-12 Months’.
This type of marketing is designed to neutralize the pressure to purchase an item specifically for a boy or a girl. Instead, it allows you to make a choice based on whether you like it for its own characteristics.
What Are Gender Neutral Toys?
Gender neutral toys are toys that are specifically designed to be marketed to both boys and girls. These toys recognize the idea that children play with the toys that interest them, not necessarily the toys that are marketed to them.
Retailers are beginning to realize that if gender markings are removed from a toy, both boys and girls may be interested in playing with it. This idea is commonly applied to open-ended, imaginative toys, instead of toys that are designed to be used in one specific manner.
For example, an action figure, a fashion doll or a toy gun is made to be used in one way and typically is gendered. But building sets, modeling clay or musical instruments can be used in a variety of ways and are often found un-gendered.
Some examples of gender neutral toys include the following:
- Playhouses – Whether you opt for an indoor playhouse that can be used for small dolls and pretend play, or a large, outdoor playhouse that your children can fit inside of, a playhouse is a great toy for building imaginative skills.
- Toy Animals – Stuffed animals or harder plastic or wooden animals allow children to create entire pretend zoos. These animals are great for pretending that they have pets, learning about a specific type of animal, and more.
- Doctor Kits – Pretend doctors’ kits are wonderful for fixing up pretend wounds on stuffed animals, on parents, and on siblings. They also help children to learn that they can grow up to work in the medical field if they choose to.
- Building Toys – There are so many types of building toys available that it’s difficult to choose just one. In fact, many families don’t. Whether you opt for Lego Bricks, wooden blocks, Zoobs, or one of the many other options available, building kits help unlock hours of imaginative fun.
- STEM Toys – These toys are focused on science, technology, engineering, and math, and help kids grow and develop in these fields while also focusing on play. Magnatiles, Snap Circuits, and other STEM toys can be great options for developing minds.
- Pretend Appliances – If you have a budding chef in your family who’s not quite ready to work with the real kitchen appliances, or a toddler who loves to vacuum right beside you, it may be time to consider purchasing some toy appliances so that you can work together on your household chores.
- Bath Toys – A variety of brightly colored bath toys turns this daily chore into a fun occasion. Consider scoops, measuring cups, or some of the STEM focused toys that allow children to build entire working pipe sets in the bath.
- Play Food and Pretend Kitchens – These are a great addition to keep little ones entertained near the kitchen while you make dinner. They can chop and dice to their heart’s content, while you work on getting dinner on the table. A quality play kitchen will last through several children, and you can continually add play food to keep the child’s interest.
- Soft Dolls/Strollers/Doll Carriers – Dolls are another great all purpose toy, as they allow a child to form a bond with a soft toy that bears a resemblance to themselves, that they can learn to care for. Add a stroller or doll carrier and some additional doll care supplies and you’ve got a complete gift.
- Toy Trains or Cars and a Train Table – Toy trains, toy cars, and a track or table painted with roads are a classic gift that’s a hit for everyone. Racing cars around on a track, or joining up a long railroad and driving it along the track, are great fun for boys and girls alike.
Toys For Boys vs Toys For Girls
For many years, there’s been an idea that there are very specific toys that are meant for boys and toys that are meant for girls. Boys play with footballs, toy guns, and cars. Girls play with dolls, play kitchens, and Easy Bake Ovens.
It’s been made very clear, mainly by advertisers, who should play with what. For generations, all one had to do was look down the toy aisles – one was pink, and one was blue.
So how does a boy learn to parent a child? How does a girl learn to race a bike or work with tools? Is there anything inherently dangerous about giving a boy a doll to play with, or should we really stick to the advertisers ideas about boys’ and girls’ toys?
Toys And Gender Roles
Essentially, we as a society believe that our children learn their gender roles quite early, and they begin to learn those roles from the toys that they play with.
A gender role is the behavior a person learns is appropriate for their gender, as taught by their societal norms.
There’s a very real fear that if a boy is seen playing with a doll, or if a girl is taught to play football, they may, at minimum, be ostracized by their peers. And an even worse fear that they may actually change their gender or their sexual preference as they grow.
Gender specific toys are, put simply, just toys. They do not have this power.
Gender Stereotypes In Toys
Gender stereotypes by toy manufacturers still continue, as of 2017, although they are less common than they were in the past. Luckily, there’s a good bit of research being done into how to make good toys that interest all children, instead of just how to make a good ‘girls toy’ or a ‘boys toy’.
Over time, fewer stereotypes and more inclusion of genders, races, and family types would be a wonderful thing to see as one takes a stroll down the toy aisle.
Some manufacturers are legitimately trying to make gender neutral toys and we applaude them. But others are still stuck on making toys that are geared towards girls or boys, such as chemistry kits that are only designed to make makeup and perfume, or building toys that only come in pink and purple or red and blue.
Because, otherwise how will you hold a girl’s interest? (That thick sarcasm? That was intentional!)
What we need are more quality toys that just show how interesting science is, without bothering to dress it up in pretty pink ribbons for the fairer sex. Trust me. We’ll get it.
Girls Playing With Boys’ Toys
Girls are perfectly capable of playing with boys’ toys and of learning from these types of toys without them being fancied up. Perhaps it’s time that we drop the gender marketing and allow the playing field to be a bit more neutral.
Kids just need adults to get out of their way a bit and understand that fun toys are just that — toys.
There’s no gender on a LEGO brick set until it’s actually painted on with stickers and colors. There’s no gender on a science kit until it’s assigned. A bow and arrow, a train, or a race car isn’t a ‘toy for boys’ until someone tells that little girl it is, and then she may never touch it again.
Boys Playing With Girls’ Toys
The exact same issue is true for boys playing with girls’ toys. They’re pretending to put a doll to bed, cook dinner for their family, or build a house with their sister’s blocks.
They’re not ‘acting like a sissy’ or ‘playing with girls’ toys’ until someone tells them so, and then it’s all downhill from there.
Just let them be little and enjoy playing with the toys that are fun for them, instead of putting a much bigger role on them that’s simply not there.
Gender neutral toys are becoming easier to spot, both in stores and online. If you have a chance to purchase one for your next birthday gift, or for your own child, consider picking one up.
You may be making quite the difference in that child’s life and providing them with an opportunity they may not otherwise have had!