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Sometimes, I hate being in a toy store. I hate the overly-pink and overly-blue aisles that toy stores have. I hate to see rattles of even new-born babies laced with those pink and blue hues. I hate it that the section with cars and trains has “boys” marked on it. I hate the curves on Lego’s female figurines.
I hate each and every gender stereotype that the toys propagate.
It was obvious that my mission as a mother became to let toys be toys - none of that theory of “this toy for girls and that toy for boys.” I tried to not push my daughter towards any particular type or colour of toy; and instead encouraged her to try out all different kinds of toys available at the market.
My experiment started right at the time when Little B started choosing things for herself. We would go to a toy store and spend time in all of the aisles, irrespective of the fact if they are for boys or girls, or if they are for toddlers or big kids. As Little B spent time in these aisles, she started getting impressed by all of the toys alike.
There is a time when every child falls in love with rainbows, Little B did too and that made it easier. Because of her love for rainbows, she tried picking toys from the VIBGYOR palette. If she picked red-coloured lunch box, then she would pick yellow-coloured water bottle. She already liked colours, all I had to do was to help her sustain her interest in all of them.
She started off in quite a gender-neutral way and I made sure that she got this gender neutral environment at home as well. When it came to play, we broke limits and redefined them. Little B’s father played ‘kitchen-kitchen’ with her and I played ‘dinosaur wars’ with her.
It got a little difficult when she started school - there were girls with Hello Kitties and boys with Spidermans. If you are a boy, you should like Chhota Bheem and if you are a girl, you should like Chutki. Little B liked none but there were times when she felt compelled to like Chutki and Barbie. We put no pressure over her and just encouraged her to keep trying everything else as well.
As time passed by, she had got used to the taste of active pretend play and therefore mere combing hair of Barbies didn’t satisfy her playful side. She wanted toys with which she can search, explore and experiment at the same time. Little B and I created lot of DIY toys and therefore she often wanted to either make her own toy or alter the market-brought to suit her own need.
Mr B spends quality time with Little B. That also led up to her gender neutral play side. If she only spent time with me, she would have been stuck with just kitchen. However, playing with her father ensured that she learns about superheroes and Star Wars.
When she got crazy for Lego, we got her both the Oil Tanker Lego set and Lego Friends. Today she makes a hospital set combining the two sets, with the Oil Tanker acting as an ambulance and the ice cream cart acting as a trolley with surgery tools in it.
Girls might pick up pinks and boys might pick up blues because of the social stereotypes they see around them. Friends and relatives will reinforce these stereotypes by indulging in talks like “girls like sitting quietly and playing with their dolls,” and “boys like crashing their trucks around the house.” There might even be a natural tendency for girls and boys to play a certain way. BUT, at the end of the day, most of these stereotypes are redundant. Yet, somehow we parents and teachers and relatives just keep reinforcing these stereotypes.
But the worst part is that because of us adults reinforcing these stereotypes through toys and play, kids don’t get the opportunity to explore other toys out there. Our glances make it awkward for a boy to explore the “pink” aisles and a girl to explore the “blue” aisles. I have never seen a girl who doesn’t like getting messy in a muddy puddle. I have never seen a boy who doesn’t like sipping pretend tea and eating pretend biscuits at a tea party. The only thing they need is reassurance from their parents that playing either is alright.
That is what childhood is all about - exploring all the possible possibilities in the world. About being as unfettered, fearless and careless as possible. Khuljaye bachpan without being labelled. Without any stereotypes.
Toys are not for girls, toys are not for boys, toys are only toys.