Gender segregation and it’s effects on children

Haley Clark, Journalist

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Even before a child has left their mother’s womb, gender roles and stereotypes are being put forth upon them. Blue is for boys and pink is for girls. This divide between the female and male sexes is becoming exponentially more prominent, and for the sake of opportunity and equality we need to strive to eliminate it entirely. Toy aisles should be desegregated and made gender neutral, that way we can allow children the opportunity to pursue what’s best for them as individuals.

The colors themselves aren’t the issue here, it’s the implications and expectations automatically assigned to them. Where baby girls get pink stuffed animals and frilly clothes, and boys get blue rattles and onesies, individuals are quick to identify which gender they are.

When babies grow stronger to begin walking and their gibberish turns into fragmented but coercive language, they are considered to be toddlers. The toys their parents choose to buy for them and allow them to play with are highly important in this stage of brain development. It helps fine tune the child’s motor skills, imagination, social interactions, hand-eye coordination, among many other vital skills. Most people would agree that all of these areas are important to work on with a child, regardless of what gender they were assigned  at birth.

Yet societies subliminal messages seep consistently into the heads of many parents, causing them to pick their children’s toys based on if it is a “boy’s toy” or a “girl’s toy”. The problem is that the majority of toys put in the girl’s section, the ones with sparkles and obvious specifications for the fairer sex, are tools that help stimulate the creative and social aspects of the brain. Examples include dolls,  stuffed animals, kitchen sets, and costumes for playing dress up. 

On the other hand, toys targeted at young boys mostly help with reasoning, hand-eye coordination, and general motor skills. These kinds of toys are building blocks, race cars, action figures, and science kits. A study suggests that these choices may actually have an impact on child development.

“Hardy et al (2009) addresses the differences among preschool boys and girls in their development of fundamental movements. This time period is especially crucial because if a child’s fundamental movement skills do not develop properly, then their future development will be drastically impacted. This study took 425 preschool children and asked them to perform specific fundamental movement skills such as locomotor and object control skills. After examining the children performing these movements, the researchers found that female preschoolers are generally better at locomotor movements, while male preschoolers are better at object control. These findings emphasize the need for a superior program in which boys and girls can work together and integrate their skills for a chance at greater development of future skills.

This puts young girls at a serious disadvantage in spatial reasoning and cognitive thinking. Most puzzles and mind challenging toys are put in the boy’s section which detours children and their parents from buying these things for a girl.  An area where this is most clearly the case is in the STEM (Science, technology, engineering, and math) field. 

Nearly all of the STEM kits and toys are placed exclusively in the boy’s aisle. I believe this is part of why so few women end up going into STEM careers later in life. Studies at the American Association of University Women  have shown that, “Persistent, subconscious images of male mathematicians and scientists that start at the earliest ages may be one explanation why girls enter STEM fields—science, technology, engineering, and mathematics—at dramatically lower rates than boys.”  

Only about a quarter of people with STEM degrees happen to be women, and even fewer end up in science careers outside of healthcare occupations. Girls should be given the chance to grow in the same manner as boys their age, especially when it comes to skills they will certainly use in the future. Chemistry and Forensics teacher at Mason High School, Katherine Omillian, feels the gender inequality in STEM careers is not due to women’s incapability to pursue them, but perhaps their areas of interest. 

“It is not the rigor of science or math that excludes women from these fields, rather the mighty strengths and interests of women in the humanities and other like professions.” said Omillian. Restricting girls to only the “girl aisle” limits their potential and discourages any possible interest in sports, construction, the sciences, and many other areas traditionally dominated by males.

On the other side of this issue is the lacking in nurturing and interpersonal skills for the young boys. Toys targeted at boys are often physical, stimulating, or action-oriented. While this may help in reasoning and strengthening the mind and body,  there is little present in boy toy aisles that focuses on nurturing and care. 

Young boys are particularly receptive to anger and violence when upset, which is in contrast to how young girls react by crying. Before puberty there are no differences in brain or hormone levels when it comes to males and females. This suggests that there may be a reason other than biology that results in men tending to turn to anger and violence when upset by something. 

The U.S. Department of Justice sponsored a National Crime Victimization Study in 2007. This evaluation found that 75.6 percent of all offenders were male and only 21 percent were female. If children of all genders were allowed to play with baby dolls and stuffed animals when and if they ever want to, the outcome may be indicative of the reason for such a divide in the first place. The difference in careers and paychecks pay be eradicated if we just let go of gender and let kids be and do all things regardless of preconceived notions about what society thinks they should be.

There are several opinions on how this issue should be solved, and these interviews show a few of those viewpoints. The Child Development teacher at Mason High School, Deborah Schafer believes the route to be taken is more gender inclusive labeling. 

“I think the way toys are stocked in stores is fine, we just need to stop calling it a girl toy or boy toy.” said Schafer, “That is an aisle of toys; there may be a lot of pink but it can be fun for boys and girls. I think a nice change would be for the manufacturers to use pictures of boys and girls on the packaging and in commercials. I want to see a boy dressing Barbie and a girl playing with a Tonka truck because I’ve seen them play this way.’’ 

Steven Jackson is the Alliance supervisor at Mason High School and a father himself. His opinion to promoting gender equality in children’s toys is to desegregate the gendered aisles, taking a more gender neutral approach. 

“I don’t think young children are different according to their gender. Parents and society usually force gender norms on boys and girls.” Said Jackson, “Toys are toys and if a child wants to play with something and a parent is willing to buy that toy, then the child shouldnt be restricted to boy or girl (toy options). In my opinion, I would love for parents and stores to be more gender neutral when it comes to toys and clothes.”

I believe all segregated toy aisles should integrate both male and female toys together, thereby making them gender neutral. That way the child can have more options and opportunities to pursue their interests and have diversity in the way they learn. Only when this is done can we begin to change the way we view gender roles and old ways of life that are no longer relevant in our society. Young girls and boys deserve the chance to become whoever they were born to be, and tradition should never stop them from doing so.

“If we teach our kids early that they can play with any type of toy, then I hope they’ll grow up knowing that they can be any type of person and accept others for their choices as well.” said Jackson.