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Gender-Bias: So My Son Likes My Little Pony…

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Photo by Daiga Ellaby
By Damelza Harris-Olsen
October 13, 2017

When my older boy was about three-years-old (he’s eight now), he asked me for a play kitchen. That weekend, we went to Ikea and got him a play kitchen and all the kitchen equipment he wanted. I didn’t think anything of it after all the best chefs out there ARE men. Gordan Ramsey and Anthony Bourdain are among my favourites.

What I didn’t count on were the unsolicited remarks from friends and family:

“That isn’t very responsible of you as a mother.”

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“Boys shouldn’t have play kitchens, it’s a girls toy”

“What are you teaching your child?”

“Are you grooming your son to be gay?”

Back then, I was a full-time mum and a large part of my day was spent in the kitchen with my son in tow. To keep him busy, I’d fill pots with dried beans or pasta so he could pretend to cook while I was actually cooking. It was a great way to add sensory play to his day while I got on with the day’s chores and have him close by.

My now five-year-old boy recently caught the My Little Pony bug. He was resistant at first because even at five, he was aware of the gender bias that society strongly suggests but his best friend, a little girl of his age was obsessed with sparkly things and because she would put her pony aside to accommodate him and his love for Nerf guns, he realised he had to do the same for her. It was a decision he made on his own. Now, they sit and have conversations about both guns and ponies. He knows all their names and which one is her favourite, to her delight.

If a child learns respect and manners by example, shouldn’t we as parents also set the tone for gender equality?

Young children do not see toys (or clothes for that matter) as for boys and girls. They see them simply as toys. Hell, my youngest, when he was a toddler, preferred the packaging the toy came in over the toy. Go figure! Children simply do not categorise things (or people for that matter) the way we do. So why then do we impose it on them? Why do we so vigorously limit their growth? 

My stance is let them play. LET THE CHILDREN PLAY. The colours of the rainbow are for everyone.

We pursue equality in the workplace, in the home and yet we still hold on so dearly to blue is for boys and pink is for girls when it comes to our children. We’ve come so far, so why perpetuate gender bias in our children?

Target decided to remove gender-based labels on toys, saying the decision is a response to concerns from parents who found signage like “boys’ blocks” unnecessary. Instead, Target has begun organising its toys by categories, like dolls and building sets, to create a gender-neutral shopping experience for kids.

Toy R Us hasn’t quite done that here in Singapore but you’ll find that there is a much wider selection of gender-neutral toys and activity sets. Companies such as Motherswork and The Better Toy Store have a great selection of gender-neutral toys and educational sets.

Clinical Psychologist, Shrimathi Swaminathan of Psynaptica says, “Play is serious business. Through play, children are formalizing their interactions with the environment. Play is also an important contributor to the development of a child’s cognitive or thinking skills. All toys allow children to explore, manipulate their environment, imitate and role play.”

“Stereotypically masculine toys facilitate higher mobility, activity and manipulative play while feminine toys facilitate nurturing, proximity and role play. Both of these sets of behaviours are important in developing cognitive skills. Interestingly, both boys and girls show more complex play with toys that are stereotypically feminine. Since complexity of play tends to mirror cognitive development, encouraging children of both genders to play with a wide variety of toys is likely to be most stimulating and facilitate the most development.”

“Further, research continues to show us that psychological androgyny or seeing oneself as having desirable characteristics of both genders is linked to many positive mental health outcomes such as positive self-esteem, better overall mental health and fewer psychological symptoms. Instead of limiting children’s play to narrow gender-stereotyped toys such as cars for boys and dolls for girls, encouraging them to explore and play with a variety of toys allows them to mimic positive behaviours of both genders and help them develop into healthy adults,” she concluded.

I do not believe that allowing my children to choose their toys will determine their sexual orientation later in life; on the contrary, I believe allowing them the freedom of choice and role-playing will encourage empathy and inclusiveness.

Both my boys are avid fans of Star Wars, WWE, the Avengers and Wild Kratts but they both also enjoy watching My Little Pony cartoons from time to time; we’re also big on baking at home.

Am I wrong to allow my boys into the kitchen? Some people think so, but then again it is MY children that I’m raising, not theirs. My husband and I, believe in cultivating love, kindness, and compassion in our boys. Gender bias just isn’t on our radar. Is it on yours?

What’s your say, mummies? We’d love to hear from you.