Pick up the doll

Let’s talk about toys.

Lego has announced it will work to remove gender stereotypes from its toys after a global survey the company commissioned found attitudes to play and future careers remain unequal and restrictive.

Researchers found that while girls were becoming more confident and keen to engage in a wide range of activities, the same was not true of boys.

Yes we know how that works. Girls don’t get called “wimps” for playing with boys’ toys. To put it another way, girls playing with toys coded “boy” are leveling up, while boys going the other direction are of course leveling down.

Seventy-one per cent of boys surveyed feared they would be made fun of if they played with what they described as “girls’ toys” – a fear shared by their parents.

Sissy. Sissy sissy sissy; nobody wants that.

“There’s asymmetry,” said Prof Gina Rippon, a neurobiologist and author of The Gendered Brain. “We encourage girls to play with ‘boys’ stuff’ but not the other way around.”

This was a problem since toys offered “training opportunities”, she said. “So if girls aren’t playing with Lego or other construction toys, they aren’t developing the spatial skills that will help them in later life. If dolls are being pushed on girls but not boys, then boys are missing out on nurturing skills.”

I don’t think I’d really thought of that before. It’s sad. It’s tragic. You want people to have nurturing skills – all people. If boys grow up avoiding such skills and thinking they’re contemptible and for sissies…well, that’s terrible.

The Let Toys Be Toys campaign was launched in 2012 in the UK to put pressure on children’s brands to expand their marketing and include both genders, so that no boy or girl thinks they are playing with “the wrong toy”. But progress is slow. A 2020 report by the Fawcett Society showed how “lazy stereotyping” and the segregation of toys by gender was fuelling a mental health crisis among young people and limiting perceived career choices.

And what else might it be fuelling? Eh? Eh? Can we think of any other form of preoccupation with gender rules that’s been making the news lately? Any at all?

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