I said that boys’ toys were more fun than girls’ toys and that I’d have liked to have had a train set. If I had, I wonder how much I’d have played with it? Impossible to know now. But I never had Meccano, cars, a train, a toy gun – I did have a toy bow and arrows, which was probably about the time when my parents took up archery. I was given one doll for a birthday present and I was quite polite to her, but she wasn’t cuddly like a teddy bear and I didn’t really play with her.

I think that, by ‘fun’, that I mean that they led to more activity. Other girls did dolls’ tea parties, played house, had dolly prams and played skipping games with rhymes and routines. Boys did adventurous things and it was all right to make a lot of noise. A group of siblings or a mixed-sex group would run around, play tag, whatever, but if you had just boys or just girls, they resorted to stereotypes. Once in a while a boy-child came round, and he was rather intrigued by the notion of a tea party and I fetched out all my soft toys and we played with them, but if there had been two boys it would have been embarrassing for them, and I certainly never did it on my own.

Things haven’t changed all that much, funnily enough. I was in a well-known toyshop a couple of weeks ago, one that prides itself on its good quality toys with educational qualities. There was a dollshouse. For small children, I think that small family figures in a house with furniture is quite a good toy for a boy or a girl – but this had a lot of pink and heart-shaped cutouts in the decorations. Anything designed to appeal mostly to a girl is relentlessly pink. Why, for goodness sake?

If you generalise, boys play rougher than girls, on the whole. But not all of them do. Mine didn’t, particularly. And we weren’t very noisy. Both El and Al had a play house, exactly the same. They also had a clockwork train set and Scalextric. As they became older they had different things as their tastes changed. Both my sons are quite happy playing quite violent video games, which I can’t even watch. When they were little and had the shoot ’em up type of thing, I liked playing them too, though I preferred games that relied more on skill. Later, there was a degree of realism I couldn’t deal with. My daughter quite soon became bored with games consoles and certainly would have hated the aggressive ones.

I’m not sure that I’m reaching much of a conclusion, except maybe to say that I think that many toys are even more sharply gender-specific now than they were when I was a child. Girls’ things are, as I say, very very pink, all hearts, flowers and glitter. Boys’ things often have quite a violent undertone. There doesn’t seem to be much place for the ungirly girl or the gentler boy, but it would take quite small differences to change that. Just do away with the vivid pink fluffiness on the one hand and the emphasis on fighting on the other.

14 comments on “Toys

  1. Dandelion

    Beautifully put, if I may say so.

    The pinkness of girls’ toys is sickening. But what I also find sickening is to hear (as I have done) parents of girls boasting that their daughter “loves anything pink” – like that’s something to be proud of. Seems like the subtext is “she’s no butch dyke”.

    Having said that, I’ve witnessed the pink preference, and it does seem to be a phenomeon, even with parents who abhor it, and who are the parents to deprive them?

    It’s hard to say how much of their pink-preference (or in the case of boys, violence-preference) is a case of demand characteristics – ie they are conforming to an implicitly-perceived gender-role.

    Chicken and egg, mate, that’s what I say.

  2. Z

    Thank you, D. I wasn’t sure if I was making any kind of sense. The whole pink preference just wasn’t there when I was a child. I’ve a friend who has twin daughters – one, he boasted (as you say) that she loved anything pink, the other hated anything pink. Two sides of exactly the same coin. To be fair to him, the fact that he approved of the one didn’t mean that he disapproved of the other, it was more subtle than that.

    Less subtle, I think, is the disapproval of a boy playing with anything that would appeal to the more feminine side of his nature. Although, at the same time, boys are expected to behave ‘like girls’ (that is, conform, be well behaved, do coursework) at school and I think that there are pointers there as to why boys, on the whole, do less well than girls in school.

  3. Dandelion

    The school thing is an interesting one. I think it’s a shame though if socially-conscious/productive behaviour is considered the domain of girls. Because it punishes pro-social behaviour and sanctions anti-social behaviour in boys.

  4. The Boy

    The pink thing is funny. We’ve very delibrately not bought pink toys or cloths. Yet in the last year she’s started asking for things pink. She’s still much of a tomboy, hard not to be with two older brothers, but she likes her cloths pink and has started delibrately asking for pink toys.


    I had a few action men. Do they count as dolls? Used to set em up in the winter and lob snowballs with stones inside at em….

    My grandads neighbours daughter used to join in and taught me the word ‘decapitated’ when she was 6 and me 5.

    Great girl she was…

  6. Wendz

    I have just put my boys to bed after half an hour of rough play that got more and more violent ( I retreated when my PMS boobs took one beating too many)…they are still jumping about upstairs and words will surely follow shortly (after all it is a school day tomorrow)….

    They had girl’s toys when they were little….pink and purple and dolls and kitchens…and they played with it all like boys. The girly stiff was given rough treatment (the things one can do with a saucepan and a kettle are mindblogging)..

    Boys are boys and will act like boys no matter what they are given to play with. Mine are bush monkeys in disguise.

    But yes – things are more pink….whatever happened to feminism?

    If that makes no sense, blame it (once again) on fine French wine.

  7. Z

    Dave, darling, did you think I would tease? As if…

    AFC, a good chance that your daughter would be exactly the same. or not…

    (ellipses rule! …)

    Dan, am I going to have to explain myself again? Fair enough. I read a couple of years ago a question from a Latin GCSE paper, and one from an O level paper. The latter asked for a factual comment, based on Caesar’s Gallic Wars (surely the most boring set text known to man or woman). The former asked “how do you think Caesar felt when he did .. whatever”. The article suggested that the O level was aimed at fairly intellectual boys and girls and the GCSE was aimed at touchy feely girls. BTW, I was a girl all right, but I was not touchy feely and would have despised the emotional question.

    Boy, resist. Or you will be overwhelmed with pinkness. Green is good šŸ™‚

    4D – yes, they were dolls and you were a GIRLY. Stones inside the snowballs just made you a vicious girly. (love you, 4D)

    Wendz, whatever happened to feminism? Exactly. Whatever bloody did? Do the same work as the men, have the babies, go straight back to work, take responsibility for the housekeeping, wear crippling heels, bikini wax, have the balls as well as the boobs and then have your marriage break down and wonder why.

    Er, present company excepted, natch. Because we all cherish our other halves, don’t we? Male and female.

  8. Honey

    ahhh should have been at my house yesterday, 4 boys and my daughter raiding the dressing up box, all the boys decked out in princess dresses tiaras and skirts, my daughter in a pirates outfit (it was all that was left!)
    i am kind of fed up of the PINKmania that has taken over the children’s world though.

  9. Dandelion

    Well, z, I think you’re right only if you believe that boys’ alleged handicap in the empathy stakes is biological, which I don’t personally believe that it is.

    Presumably, you’d have to know the facts to have an inkling of how Caesar felt, so I don’t see that that’s a dumbing-down per se, and I think schools should teach empathy to boys as well as girls. More so, if anything. In things like rocket science, we can as a culture afford a division of labour, but not on empathy and social conscience. Otherwise you get a badly imbalanced society where one half (roughly along gender lines) gets a pretty raw deal.

    Why would you have despised the emotional question?

  10. Z

    I would have despised the emotional question, Dandelion, because Caesar would have too. A Roman soldier held no place for emotion, which would have been seen as weakness. If the question had been ‘how did Mr Darcy feel when Elizabeth rejected his first proposal of marriage?’, that would have been entirely appropriate and I’d have been fine with answering it.

    I chose that question deliberately, because you might well be able to demonstrate just as much knowledge with a question that talks about feelings, but that’s not what I’m saying. And of course I’m not suggesting either that anyone should be discouraged from showing empathy, or emotion or understanding why they have the thoughts and feelings that they do, and since society in general has historically not encouraged boys in this respect, arguably a school should do so.

    But, as a generalisation, I do think it’s true that the ‘average’ boy and the ‘average’ girl learn differently and demonstrate what they’ve learned differently. I am very glad I was at school before coursework – projects were coming in by the time I was in my teens and I hated them. I liked exams and tests – the hard studying at the end, the display of knowledge. I never joined in classroom discussions – show anyone else my ideas? I wanted full credit myself! It could be that you could teach people with these ‘masculine’ traits to overcome them, but that’s a value judgment in itself, to say that the other methods are better. I don’t think either way is better and I think either way of thinking should be valued.


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