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.