Toys "R" Us announced Friday that it will stop labeling toys "boys" or "girls" in U.K. stores and will advertise all toys with images of both genders playing with them. This degendering of toys is in response to a campaign led by a group called "Let Toys Be Toys," which seeks to stop toy companies and retailers from designating toys by gender and thus "limiting children's imaginations and interests."
While this has potential to incite a machismo backlash in response to boys playing with Barbie dolls, the measure is a decidedly positive thing, and Toys "R" Us should expand this initiative to its U.S. stores as the gendering of toys limits a child's ability to develop his or her self-concept.
There are many components of the socialization process, which is life-long. However, most gender role internalization occurs during the infant, toddler, and early childhood years. The instant humans are thrust into the world, they are received with a blanket color-coded blue or pink according to gender. Rooms are painted, toys are bought, and décor is planned based purely on a baby's gender. Gender socialization is among the first and most powerful lessons we learn about who we are and what our roles are throughout our lives.
The argument against gendered toys is simple: children must be given the opportunity to play diverse roles within the constructs of their childhood games in order to develop a positive self-concept and confidence within those roles. If a female child is only exposed to modes of play that focus on traditional female roles including home-making, child-rearing, beautifying dolls, and picking out clothes, she may never consider herself in any traditional "male" role. More importantly, she may not learn the skills that accompany different modes of play. For example, research shows that boys often receive Legos, computers, and video games first, which increase their spatial reasoning skills. Early development and mastery of these skills is often associated with careers in math, science, and engineering, professions decidedly lacking female members.
Lastly, male and female children must learn at an early age to see not only themselves, but also members of the opposite gender, as capable of playing both roles. This can also potentially reduce bullying of children who don't distinctly fit into either set of traditional gender roles.