Why toys should not be gender specific

PUBLISHED : Sunday, 30 December, 2012, 12:00am
UPDATED : Sunday, 30 December, 2012, 2:49pm

In my ideal parenting world my three children (two boys and a girl) would be colour-blind when it comes to the toys they play with. Any toy, regardless of the colour of the box it comes in, and regardless of the child it is marketed to, would be welcomed as a toy to be played with.

While my husband and I usually agree on how we parent our children, we don't agree on this issue. My husband, while liberal on everything else, is extremely old school when it comes to the toys that boys and girls should play with.

If it comes in a pink box and wears a dress or silver tiara then it is quite obviously a girl's toy. If it comes in a khaki-coloured box, and is essentially a piece of plastic shaped into the form of a weapon of some kind, then it is for boys only.

But this is when his thinking gets a bit clouded - because the boys' toys are fine for girls to play with, but the girls toys are not for boys to play with. So our children can share the Star Wars figures and the Star Wars Lego, but not the dolls, baby bottles and Princess Barbies.

I know, it makes no sense to me either. I grew up with two younger brothers, and our house was always filled with any number of pink and blue coloured toys. The three of us shared them pretty much equally. The dolls were mostly my domain but we still shared the He-Men, ThunderCats and other toys, without regard to who they were initially designed for or the packaging they came in.

This is now being replayed in our household with our young children. When our daughter has friends round to play, they gravitate towards the playhouses, the ponies, and the dolls. But when my daughter is let loose with her brothers, it is the pirates, and the swords and the Jedi that come out.

Our youngest is almost two years old and will sometimes commandeer one of his sister's doll's strollers, pile it high with soft toys and proceed to ram pieces of furniture with it.

He is more likely to use the dolls as a weapon than to nurture them. Our eldest son, who is six, wouldn't touch a doll if you paid him. But why would he? After all, dolls are for girls!

And that isn't just my husband talking. I recently went on a shopping trip to buy my nephew a stroller for his dolls.

He has a special doll he sleeps with every night, and we decided he would like some way of getting his baby around in the day. I have been to countless toy shops in countless parts of Hong Kong, searching for a doll's stroller that isn't pink.

He could have a pink one, of course, but it would be nice to find a different coloured one. I eventually located one, tucked away at the back of a toy shop shelf.

But still I can't help but think that children, and my husband, wouldn't colour code toys if they weren't colour coded in their boxes. Baby dolls don't always have to come in pink boxes, but maybe a nerf gun or two could.

Some toys are colour neutral, like pretend food and some tea sets. My children play with those happily together, pretending they are running a restaurant or a shop.

The issue runs much deeper than girls playing with boys' toys and vice versa. It's more about allowing my children to be happy in their own skin and comfortable with their individuality. If I have a son who wants to wear the princess dress, shouldn't I let him?

My husband is much more realistic. He asks, "How is society going to treat our little boy when he goes out dressed in a princess dress?" In my mind, it should be no different to how society responds to our daughter leaving the house in a Spider-Man costume, when no one bats an eyelid. My husband agrees with me, but insists that society does not. I suppose he has a point.

Which is why I should probably go and make sure my youngest son no longer has purple nail varnish on his fingers before he heads off to his playgroup.

Rebecca Tomasis, a mother of three, was co-winner of the first Proverse Prize for unpublished writers