As parents, it may be tricky to know what to do when we hear about “gender neutral” choices for our kids. On one hand, we may like the idea, on the other hand, we might be wary of breaking certain molds or being too adventurous with such fundamental conventions – especially when it comes to our little ones.
In this article, we will be sharing our views on why opting for gender neutral toys and clothes for kids is the way to go. To be very clear, our reasoning is based on practical, functional, and logical considerations only. Nothing more and nothing less.
First, let’s define what “gender neutral” actually means in this context. According to dictionary.com, one of the definitions for this term is simply: “relating to, intended for, or common to any gender“
For our purposes today, this is what we mean.
Here are the reasons.
1. It’s Irrelevant.
Gender is not a Justified Consideration when it comes to Choosing Clothes and Toys for Young Kids
Though it’s true that by age 4 kids typically have a firm understanding of gender identity including their own, it has been shown that we introduce it to them way before that in an artificial manner. In fact, before they are even born, we may already be having gender reveal parties and painting the nursery according to what the ultrasound test showed us.
So, you may be wondering: what’s the harm?
The potential harm lies in the unnecessary nature of the distinction. During early childhood, gender is irrelevant and splitting kids into two categories may be a source of serious confusion later on. Gender identity is understood relatively early, but gender roles are actually learned over time. It has actually been shown that the roles we teach our kids, knowingly or unknowingly, are inaccurate! Does a 2-year-old girl really need to be taught that toy toolboxes are off limits for her? Does a 3-year old boy need to told that the color pink and unicorns are not for him?
Life is complex enough, and kids will need to find and create themselves within the chaos. These unnatural divisions so early on could put a spanner in the works for their self discovery. This is especially the case when the world is clearly heading towards a future of gender equality!
2. It’s Confusing
Unnecessary Distinctions Lead to Confusing Outcomes
On one hand, we tell our little girls that they can do anything and we wish to believe that the world is open for them. On the other hand, they don’t see any girl astronaut toys. They also don’t see many building or engineering toys being offered to them in the “Toys for Girls” isles.
This paradox isn’t confined to girls only. We want our boys to be sensitive, caring, and even good fathers when the time comes – yet they can’t easily get their hands on a baby doll to play with, or a play kitchen. Dollhouses for boys can barely be found.
Typically, domestic play will be marketed to girls, and construction toys will be geared towards boys. This will happen either directly or subliminally. Either way, it’s hard to deny that this is the current state of affairs.
Girls and boys that wish to play with non-stereotypical toys for their respective gender will encounter obstacles in the form of their parents’ idea of what they should be playing with, the “retail architecture” of the shopping isles, the gender of the child that is shown on the packaging, TV adverts, and so much more.
3. It’s Limiting
Gender Classification Limits our Kids and Denies them of so Many Potential Future Passions
If you offer your kids only half of what the retail market has to offer, you are cutting away a potential 50% of their interests and passions. What if a little boy is passionate about childcare? You won’t find many toy prams for boys to play with. What if a girl could develop an immense interest in technology? The way the retail boy-girl map is today, the kids in these two examples would be limited.
This is not just unfortunate, but quite worrying.
Did you know that girls have weaker skills when it comes to spatial awareness due to the toys they’re given as children? In a study carried out by the University of Colorado, it was shown that males performed better when it came to spatial skills. However – researchers found that girls that had played games like LEGO and the like, had similar scores to the boys. This confirmed that the leading factor for spatial skills had to do with nothing more than the toys given to them as young children, and gender was then dropped as a factor of influence in this experiment.
This study showed that girls and boys have similar brains and the same abilities – it’s the toys that can sculpt or limit their skills, and this can carry on well into the future!
4. It’s Illogical
The boy-girl Divide Renders us Passive Participants on the Retail Scene, Following an Old Habit that Makes no Sense Today
When you’re playing someone else’s game, you naturally lose control. This is the case for parents on the retail scene. The ads that are shown for kids’ toys and clothes, the packaging, and even the blue-pink color code will show your kids what’s for them, and what’s “not for them”, and we automatically comply.
This division is illogical, it cannot be explained with reason, and it’s not something that we as parents are actively seeking. The retail market seeks to keep this divide alive and kicking for as long as possible, with the simple goal of selling double.
When raising little ones, you are trying to survive the day – and may not have much time for philosophizing and soul-searching like you used to. There are many wonky structures and archaic remnants around us, and we intuitively sense this, but may not always have the time to deal with it.
We walk into a shop, our kids will pick out what is savvily marketed to them, and we pay for it. This means that the retail market’s revenue-oriented goals, coupled with old stereotypes, are running the show – and not us.
5. It’s Impractical
Having Double the Amount of Clothes and Toys Just for the Sake of Dividing Kids by Gender is Costly, Wasteful, and Bad for the Environment
As if the profound reasons described above weren’t convincing enough, dividing toys and clothes by gender is simply not practical. Many families have more than one child, and they’re not always the same gender. Not to mention, many families wish to pass on clothes and toys to friends, family, members of the community, or charity.
Having two sets of baby clothes, kids’ clothes, and toys due to a stubborn and illogical gender divide, is the most impractical thing we can think of. It’s expensive, wasteful, and bad for the environment. How many lost opportunities have there been when wanting to pass a garment on to a sibling, due to it being the wrong color? How many toys have been dismissed as being “for boys” or “for girls” and therefore not been blessed with another lifecycle of use?
In the US, each person on average will throw away a staggering 37kg worth of clothing, every year. These end up in landfills, and can stay around for decades, severely harming our environment in too many ways to mention. According to CNN’s “9 Common Myths about Ethical Fashion Busted“, the best way to reduce your fashion footprint is to simply buy fewer things. This is the silver bullet for being kind to our planet.
Once more, dividing kids’ items by gender slashes the sharing ability by 50%, doubles waste, and costs us more.
Can you think of anything LESS practical?
6. It’s Unrealistic
Things are Moving in the Right Direction for Gender Equality, and our Kid’s Toys and Clothes do not Reflect that
The world is really progressing when it comes to gender equality. Our toys are way behind! Surely, toys and games should:
- Simulate reality
- Prepare them for how the world really is
- Expand their horizons
Unfortunately, the gender divide associated with toys and clothes does the opposite of these things. For example, 77.6% of chefs are male, yet most kitchen toys are marketed to girls. In real life, there are women astronauts, but the toys and clothes available for little girls do not align with this reality that we should be celebrating.
We strive for equality, and the world is heading in that direction like never before. If we pick out one grand objective measure to demonstrate the point, let’s have a look at the hot topic of gender gap earnings. While still a tricky subject, we can see how the gap is closing across the world, in an ultra-clear trend.
Today, women are walking on the moon and running countries. Men are world-class chefs and childcarers.
Equality is very clearly coming on leaps and bounds. It’s high time that our kids’ toys and clothes caught up!