Girls’ Toys?

I read this article a few days ago and forwarded it to P.  The gist of the original article was:

Barbie should be put back in her box to make way for more “creative” toys such as Lego and Meccano that are traditionally given to boys, one of Britain’s top women scientists says.

I know P has some very strong opinions on this subject – way stronger than mine. Even so her reply was much more emphatic than I expected. So I knew I had to post it for you guys. Let me know what you think!

Before we get P’s opinion, an obligatory pic of the toys Chotu never plays with.

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Makes a nice Thumbnail if you share this post on Facebook!

I think this is a sort of reverse-conditioning that is being imposed on girls. In getting rid of one stereotype, why are we creating another? Why are we giving the girls who do actually want to play with Barbies and cooking-sets a complex? At the end of the day, the kid must have the choice of picking up whatever toy it is he or she wants to play with!

There is such a thing as nature as well, it’s not all nurture. How is this any worse than those parents who “urge” their child to write with their right hand, and not with the left? So yes, I think the child must be given a choice, but this “urging” is bad, one way or another.

On a personal note, my favorite toy was a cute girl with blue-eyes, curly hair and a green dress – I had her with me for the longest time until she was in absolute tatters! I used to love to play with a metal kitchen set my dad got for me and my sis ( yes, my physicist dad, who also taught us quite a bit of physics later on in life!) . And believe it or not, our favorite game was “playing house” 😀

Clearly, none of this reflects on the way me or my sister turned out eventually, except perhaps my fondness for babies 🙂 Conversely, it is not as if all boys who play with Lego sets end up becoming engineers or rocket-scientists!

Actually I find some of the ideas expressed here objectionable and downright condescending. Sample this: “Girls toys are typically liable to lead to passivity – combing the hair of Barbie, for instance – not building, imagining or being creative with Lego or Meccano” . Why is hair-dressing not a creative activity?! How can she say it doesn’t encourage imagination?!

Again, on a personal note, it’s true that I never had any interest in Legos or building stuff, and that I did love to read and do math, and these were perhaps early signs of what I eventually ended up doing. But the fact that I was playing with dolls and kitchen sets didn’t turn me away from science or math, and neither did it dampen my creativity (or so I’d like to think!) . As for internships and such, I know that G served as a bar-tender for a while during his undergraduate days, and then went on to do a math-CS PhD; I think he would have been a disaster at any local garage 😉

It’s not that I’m not admitting that there is a problem : the fraction of women in the so-called STEM fields (even at the entry level) is abysmally small. But I think the approach suggested here is catching the wrong end of the stick. My theory is that it is during the high-school-to-college transition that a lot of girls move away from STEM. A few of them continue on to biology, primarily because of the “scope” of doing medicine later on. Actually if you look at the list of high school toppers in India, whether in CBSE or State-Board, there’s a larger fraction of girls than boys. But when it comes to going into college, they are encouraged to be “practical” and choose fields where there’s a scope of getting a job soon after finishing college.
Long years of societal conditioning makes girls believe that the purpose of a college degree is to get a job, then get married and start a family; that choosing to pursue a research career in science or math or engineering at this stage might entail long years of waiting before the job-marriage-child matrix happens. Most girls give in to social pressure at this stage and choose the more “practical” option…I think *this* is where the problem lies! This is where the societal pressures have to ease and girls should be encouraged to pursue what they are interested in…I don’t think something as simple as replacing the Barbies with Legos will help!

And there we have it, if not from  one of India’s most eminent female scientists (though I’m betting she will count among them soon) then at least from a female scientist who is none the worse from having grown up playing with a blue eyed doll.

It’s a bit of a continuation on yesterday’s theme, I suppose. After all, it’s just another magic wand for parenting. Whatever happened to understanding the child’s temperament and needs and responding to those? Sigh!

4 Replies to “Girls’ Toys?”

  1. I understand the point you are making here. I sincerely believe that children should be allowed to make a choice for themselves. We as parents should provide them with the best resources, but the choice should always be open to them. Imposing one’s opinions is only going hinder the child’s decision making skills not to mention growing up with a complex.

  2. I totally agree with P.
    We shouldn’t really overanalyse parenting…just go with the flow. My kid played with barbie AND leggo. She is a very creative and balanced (umm…sorta) tween now. I don’t think the toys she played with had anything to do with how she is now.

    1. Exactly! About six months later my son is totally over his trains phase and is now into butterflies. He loves butterflies and flowers and his favourite game is to pretend to be a butterfly. Of course, he’s influenced by his earlier train phase. He builds factories to process the honey he collects and loads honey bottles in a train to sell them in a shop. But overall, he loves butterflies. Does this mean anything? Yes, fewer toys. Pretending to be a butterfly is free! 🙂 Trains are quite expensive…

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