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Gender Stereotyped Toys: The BBC2 Experiment

Thu 14th September 2017

BBC 2 Experiment on Gender and Toys

Are you sure you don’t gender-stereotype children? This was the question posed in the second programme of BBC2’s current series exploring the effect of gender stereotyping on children.

In the programme BBC2  conduct an experiment to see what people really think of little girls and boys… This is not a new experiment Albert Bandura, one of the most widely-cited psychologists of all time, did the same thing when establishing his social learning theory, and how it influences gender identity, in 1977. However, this new BBC2 experiment has really managed to capture the interest of the general public, coming at a time when retailer Toys R Us has ditched gender specific toy aisles; retailer John Lewis has launched its gender-neutral clothing; and some schools allow boys to wear skirts to school, while others have removed the school skirt from uniform altogether.

It’s a good thing this experiment has been carried out again, even if we still see adults subconsciously imposing gender stereotypes on children. Perhaps this time around the debate will be observed more widely, as society’s views on the whole are quite different now, to in the ’70’s. Nonetheless, there have been many comments such as the experiment is “pc gone mad”; ” This stuff is insane, it really is pc [sic] gone too far”. Ironic that the same people talk about how children should just be allowed to be children; which of course is what would happen if children were not handed gender-associated toys.

In the film we see adults proffering toys based on their perceptions of that child’s gender, rather than the child’s interests. To make a distinction: gender isn’t the same as sex. Sex is largely biological, while gender is a set of social norms that change as time passes.

It’s there for everyone to see: the experiment is as much on the adults as on the children. However, not everyone weighs this up when they weigh in with their comments.

Does gender socialisation in the very early months of a child’s life impact on his or her future?

We think it does and we’re not alone. One man comments that at school favourite subjects were referred to as ‘girlie’ not ‘manly’, and he was discouraged from pursuing those subjects where he might have had natural talent. Now grown up, he has qualifications in a field that don’t interest him – and it’s very difficult to change course later in life when your livelihood depends on your income.

Here’s some current thinking from parents…

One of the comments posted on the video is from mother Gemma Wilby who makes the case for this experiment: Our youngest daughter is 5 and since the age of 2 she has expressed a want to be a boy. Now, she does not actually want to become a boy but the preconceived attitudes of the world has lead her to believe it is more fun for her to be a boy.

She is very confident, loves rough play, cars, guns, football etc. Which is absolutely fine with us as that it what she enjoys. Nevertheless when it comes to school, clothing, tv shows and attitudes of others it becomes difficult to try and show her that she can play with anything she wants despite being a girl as everything suggests otherwise.

The point of the above study is to show that gender stereotyping is still very much part of the way society behaves. In 2017 we have male and female fire fighters, nurses, bus drivers and astronauts; but not in anything like equal numbers. Those that are, buck the trend; but why is it a trend? Is it because of the way we socialise children from early in their lives?

Here’s the opposing opinion from Julie Turner: Why do we need to have a study on this. Children play with what they want. I remember playing with my dolls, playing house etc, but I also liked playing with my brothers cars. My own children (girl and 2 boys) played with different toys not because we forced them yes my daughter had her dolls and the Barbies, the boys had their cars and footballs. My daughter loved to play football in her teens. It makes no sense to convince new parents this is how to bring up your children no one has been traumatised by what they were given to play with when they were children or how they are dressed. What is wrong with pink for a girl blue for a boy when it’s a newborn ? [sic].

Why this gender experiment is important

Most parents, who wouldn’t want to, don’t even realise that they’re reinforcing the stereotypes, and that’s what this film is trying to bring to our attention.
Being guided into certain “norms” early in life could have an impact on happiness later in life, as noted above. It’s particularly relevant of course to the lives of those for whom stereotypes do have an impact – people “who don’t fit the norms”. Being gay was only decriminalised fifty years ago; almost impossible to imagine now. Wouldn’t it be good if we could learn, and progress to a more equal future for boys and girls?

There’s a shortfall of women working in STEM (science, technology, engineering and math); educational disciplines that are now as essential to our world as reading and writing. Meanwhile, boys and girls need to learn how to express their emotions and learn how to nurture one another. Gender stereotyping is not necessary and it holds girls and boys back. A world where girls and boys play with dolls and footballs if they want to, is the progress we need!

At My Doll Best Friend, we would be delighted discuss the suitability of any of our dolls for a child you have in mind.

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