Every year, the search for a suitable Christmas present for the offspring begins again. Probably all those who have ever looked for a suitable gift for a child, know that this is not an easy task. At least not anymore, when the children start to have specific wishes and preferences. While babies and toddlers say ‘The more colorful and louder the better’, the bigger kids are much more difficult. They usually cannot be fobbed off with any doll or book. They want a very specific doll with certain features and a very specific band from a particular set of books. As soon as this untold phase has begun, the donors face an almost impossible task.
This is partly because the taste of children changes faster than you can send your order. In a moment, Barbies are the absolute favorite toy, besides all other toys are uninteresting. The next moment, experimental boxes are suddenly in high demand. Who should just come along?
But also the immense offer, which offers the toy sector, represents a big challenge. Because also here the question arises: Who should only come along?
What beautiful princesses and courageous knights have to do with gender clichés
According to popular gender clichés, girls are traditionally given dolls and accessories, books with fairy tale stories, and play kitchens. For the boys, there are cars, dinosaurs or model kits. But the welcome social change, the equality and equal opportunities of women and men strives for, is exactly this stereotyped way of giving a thorn in the eye – and not without reason.
By raising children in two separate camps as pretty princesses or courageous knights, classic role models are reproduced. There are sweet, good and polite girls on the one hand and adventurous, courageous and active boys on the other hand. To a not insignificant part, of course, this is done via the top of the children, which uses exactly these alleged differences between girls and boys for marketing.
Collage with a boy dressed as a knight and a girl dressed as a princess
While boys experience adventures as knights, girls are more concerned with their princess look
Toys for girls usually promote social skills and creativity and often focus on the external appearance – such as jewelry craft kits, coloring books with fashion motifs or to a play make-up and dressing table with mirror, make-up, and hairdryer.
For boys, this is of course out of the question. Your toy is designed to promote spatial thinking and motor skills and to awaken the spirit of discovery and adventure – for example, with experiment boxes, a game workbench or with model kits.
In toy shops, this division by gender is particularly bold: In the pink corner, you will find ponies, Barbies and princess accessories, in the other dinosaurs, car racing tracks and knight castles – as it should be. Of course, the children also realize that there is a sharp border between pink and blue. Determinedly, they steer towards the area corresponding to their gender. But why is that?
Children imitate what they observe and experience themselves. This also applies to gender stereotypes. They are incredibly sensitive to external influences and are very aware of their environment. Once they understand their own affiliation with a particular gender, they also quickly understand what they are expected to do with it.
For example, little girls who are told over and over again how pretty they are will quickly realize that they are praised not for their courage or talent but for their looks. Over time, they will take over this behavior (at least in part) and see their appearance as essential to their personality. Yet girls are characterized by more than their cute face, their pretty clothes or their hair done. At this point, one can also ask oneself how often one says to a boy, for example, that he looks pretty – probably never.
Everything is a question of balance
But what does all this mean for the presents under the Christmas tree? Should girls no longer have dolls and boys no more cars? Should one even ban these supposedly gender-specific toys?
No, it’s more about finding the right balance. Even girls benefit from the creative role play with the doll carriage because they let their imagination run wild and playfully promote their social skills. The same is true of course for boys, except that they are much less likely to get the chance or even encouraged. The typical ‘juvenile toys’, on the other hand, strengthen spatial thinking and fine motor skills, qualities that are also very beneficial for girls.
Not (just) giving according to gender stereotypes should not be a compulsion in this context, but an opportunity. One should and should just give both – with and against the respective gender assignment. In this way children can not only concretely promote their development more diversified, they are also encouraged to freely (he) – of gender clichés and stereotypes – to develop.
But we also have to encourage the kids to step out of the rigid roles – especially the boys. While adventurous girls who play football and build one model airplane after another are already cool, boys who like to play with dolls or put on clothes will not get the same acceptance or recognition. But it is also beneficial for the boys if they can promote their social behavior and creativity in the game.
Christmas as an opportunity for out-of-the-box thinking
In the search for the right Christmas gift is generally: It must be suitable for each child and his age. Girls and boys are complex and can not be defined only by their affiliation to a gender. They have very individual interests, strengths, desires and ideas that should be taken into consideration.
We should just dare to cross the border between pink and blue at the upcoming Christmas shopping so brave knights can play with dolls and curious princesses can assemble rockets.