A simple 8-panel cartoon on toy choices for boys and girls.

Shopping for toys might not seem like an important parenting moment, but it is.

For example, when my wife and I are looking online or at a shop somewhere, our 7-year-old boy frequently chooses toys that are marketed to girls, like pink backpacks and sparkly purple art projects.

Some parents might steer him over to a different set of toys, but we make a point to not pass judgment. We do caution him that he might have some kids teasing him, but that doesn't bother him one bit. In fact, that kind of peer pressure doesn't affect his decisions at all (proud papa moment there!).


Toys are still gendered and it's often in a way that's unfair to girls.

Many of the toys that toy makers typically assign to girls point them in a certain direction, often associated with homemaking and pleasing men, a point recently made by comic artist Christine Deneweth, who published a fantastic cartoon about kids and gender discrimination (see below).

Deneweth says she was watching TV when she saw toy commercials featuring boys conquering the world while girls stayed at home. She realized that the toys weren't just gendered, they were limiting girls to few roles in society.

"Boy toys market that boys can be anything: scientists, dragon masters, sports stars, superheroes, and so much more," she said. "Girl toys limit girls into being moms and cooks. And while it is good to be a mom or a cook, toy marketing doesn't show girls in a variety of roles. This can be damaging because girls need to see that they can do anything, too."

This comic does a great job of showing just how gendered toys can send the wrong messages to kids.

It's worth noting, of course, that just because a woman does these things doesn't mean she's "doing it for men." Many women cook, make dinner, are moms, and wear dresses because they want to do those things for themselves. But it is a problem that toys marketed to girls reinforce the message that women and girls are supposed to be doing these things, and they aren't being given opportunities to try other things. And vice versa for boys.

Stereotypical toys can be harmful to boys, girls, and those who don't identify as either.

For example, I am the family cook and my boys do the laundry. These are not gendered roles at all in our house.

But I'll be damned if I can find a cooking set in the boys' section at the toy store.

There are companies that are breaking these molds, such as GoldieBlox, which offers toys that can inspire girls to be engineers, to build things, to dream beyond traditional roles.

Image from Hasbro promotional video.

Even bigger companies like Hasbro have received enough pressure to offer gender-neutral toys when previously, Easy-Bake ovens were only offered in pink and purple. Who made them consider changing? A 13-year-old kid.

Perhaps we're decades away from gender-neutral being the norm, but every time we talk about this, we make progress.

And parents (or kids) ... if you find a toy that bugs you because it's blatantly sexist, feel free to have a conversation about it, or start a petition, or just refuse to buy into the stereotypes.

Courtesy of Tiffany Obi
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