Apart from the recognition of a series of ostensive features clearly identified in the Guide for the choice of toys without sexist stereotypes, published in recent days by the Ministry of Consumer Affairs of the Government of Spain, the isolated and static conceptualization of the toy does not allow us to interpret its impact on the development of girls and boys.
The purely descriptive analysis, highly dependent on somewhat hackneyed aspects such as the association of colors and genders, is insufficient, especially in an information society such as the current one in which mothers and fathers have undergone compulsory schooling en masse.
Everyone understands that statically a knife is nothing more than a cutting instrument; however, brandishing it in a bank office does not have the same social significance as propping it up on a restaurant table. That is, we have acquired through socialization a knowledge about the legitimate uses of the knife, these being dependent on the definition of possible situations, in whose normative configurations this instrument collaborates to a greater extent (in the bank it can define by itself the situation as robbery) or minor (in a restaurant it is one more object).
Is a telescope a male or female toy?
Something very similar happens with toys: by itself, a telescope is no more appropriate for boys than for girls, which is where the most liberal analyzes remain. However, in a game situation, the toy is usually the main provider of meaning, which raises the problem of the legitimacy of its use, especially since the acquisition of it is preceded by the vocation of who chooses to put it on. available to the boy or girl.
Consequently, the social meaning of the toy is usually decided before its use, gender being a determining factor in the definition of the latter. On the other hand, the framework posed by a free market encourages toy companies to strive to reconcile the legitimacy of using the toy with commercial targets.
Thus, beyond being a mere playful activity, playing is a preparation for adult life, through the acquisition of cognitive, intellectual, social and communication skills, allowing the functional assimilation of a certain version of reality. Although it is true that not all games need toys, these objects serve as a support for the meaning given to the action of playing, allowing the child to explore, create, invent, imagine, project or fantasize. It is, therefore, a consumer product that is a correlate of a socializing activity.
During the Christmas holidays we witness a vertiginous increase in the number of advertisements related to the toy industry. From the theories of social learning it is noted that the choice of toys cannot be explained with essentialist or biological arguments. As we have seen, statically toys have no gender. However, at the age of three, girls and boys are already able to discern between those appropriate for them and for them.
There is no gene that establishes in girls their preference for the color pink, princesses or beauty items, as well as in boys their interest in weapons, cars or video games. On the contrary, there is a correlation with the forms of social organization.
Post-industrial societies have in common an organization sustained by a firm separation between public and private-domestic space, each of which is closely related to one of the official sexes: public space, related to men, governed by science and science. characterized by competitiveness and access to prestige; and the private one, related to women, governed by emotions and oriented to satisfy the basic needs of those who occupy the public space.
For this reason, the commercial targets of toys (especially fathers and mothers) have no difficulty in identifying social uses in toy marketing: for them, tools to tan a competitive character such as weapons or balls, or work uniforms; for them, uniforms of unrealistic occupations (princesses) or initiation rituals into heteronormativity in order to prepare them for the future satisfaction of men’s needs (beauty items).
In this way, the tendency to act in the sense that they believe the rest expects is established, or what we call the self-fulfillment effect. From the age of four, the choice of girls or their families about the toy and the way to use it keeps them more passive, sedentary and confined to the home environment: dollhouses, princess costumes, jewelry making, etc. .
In the case of children, outdoor, technological or construction activities are chosen. This sexist discrimination generates models that project further serious implications. A clear example is the choice of university careers, where there are still studies chosen mainly by women and others by men.
Girls prefer occupations in which the values of sensitivity, care or altruism predominate, such as social, humanistic or artistic careers, which are also associated with fewer possibilities in the labor market and lower economic remuneration. For their part, the boys opt for technical or scientific careers, occupations related to production.
But, beyond the predetermined roles, they intervene in the construction of meaning that we make about our person. In this sense, there are already studies that show that at six years old girls already see themselves as less bright and think that men are more intelligent.
Therefore, the use of toys as a tool for segmentation by sex also impoverishes the life experiences of childhood, also in the long term. Legislative advances on equality are undeniable, but they have so far not contradicted the hegemonic liberal agenda in Europe since the 1990s.
This is used by toy marketing to use stereotypes in search of economic profitability, which is carried out by conditioning the choice with the aesthetics of its designs and the color range, the packaging and the figures that appear in it and their interaction, the use of language or even the arrangement in stores. Also diversifying collections based on sex, ratifying the sexual division of games as a natural division, which is also affected by the pink rate.
Finally, it should be noted that not even the transgression of gender norms is carried out on equal terms: watching a girl play with a truck is not as surprising as seeing a boy with a Barbie. In other words, women can adapt to the male standard because it represents the hegemonic model.
This is the reflection of a society that overvalues hegemonic masculinity and punishes those who adhere to it with roles traditionally associated with femininity, affirming itself from gender schemes that regulate the use made of the toy.
For this reason, we defend the overcoming of the traditional duality that classifies toys as “girls” or “boys”, and that limits the integral development of capacities, making it necessary to provide new relationship models, the exchange of tasks and diverse roles and referents.
Andrea Gutiérrez García, PhD Assistant Professor, University of La Rioja and Ramón González-Piñal Pacheco,, International University of Valencia
This article was originally published on The Conversation. Read the original.