By Adya Vac:
What is the first thing that comes to anyone’s mind when someone says ‘toy shop’? The images would be a panorama of colors you had no idea existed and so many toys and games you wished were available when you were kids. On the other hand, some nostalgia might even prompt you to pity kids today, because they can’t get some things you had when you were young, and for you that makes a world of a difference.
So last weekend, I walked into a toy shop at a big mall in a big city with my friend who had to buy toys for his 3 year old niece. For a moment there, we were baffled! Its practically been ages since we were kids, and we had to make some effort to dig into our memories and somehow relate to the countless variety available, most of which didn’t make sense to us at first sight. As we walked by every aisle and shelf we realized there were very few toys or games whose ‘purpose’ we could identify, and thus we had to resort to picking up the rest and reading the instructions. Imagine the embarrassment when the instructions were in a foreign language like Chinese and we had to ask the salesman what it was for. People in their early twenties trying to figure out toddler games. And after it was firmly established by the store owners or salespersons that we were thoroughly lost in this maze, help came, or should I say, prejudice?
A young man walked up to us and asked us if we needed help, ‘Yes’ we replied immediately. His first question, “Is it a boy or a girl?”. It was a seemingly simple and innocent question. And yet, at that point I realized what today I think quite a number of youngsters are recognizing as a pattern. A pattern in the way our society is structured and the way we are brought up. When we told him that it was a girl, he directed us to a small section of the store reserved for toys for the female sex, and what do we see there? I’m quite sure you already know; dolls in different attires, make up kits, jewelry making kits, stitching kits, kitchen sets. Now contrast it with the other toys and games available for the ‘boys’, from superhero puzzles to explorer kits to guns and board games and lego houses to architectural toys and walkie talkies, there was no end to the choices. And with this stroll around that store, and some others as well, one fact was and is very readily stated; girls are meant to stay at home, and boys can choose from a myriad of options.
It is disturbing that the society’s expectations from such young children are biased according to the gender. Do I even need to elaborate on what the child learns from such prejudices? Do I need to point out how children are made to understand their ‘place’ in the world? And while some parents might buy more than kitchen sets for their baby girls, I have yet to come across parents who would buy a kitchen set or a doll for their sons. One side of the coin, this is an example of how some girls may be given more than the stereotyped choices, at least as far as their toys are concerned, but men will always stay at the top, they will not be demeaned by ‘kitchen sets’. The other side of the coin is a bit more complicated.
Today, we see more and more girls getting out of their house, the statistics still being far from satisfactory, but are fortunately moving in a positive direction. Yet men are still burdened with the same jobs. How many of us would let our boys be interested in clothes and recipes? Some of you may point out that today many leading chefs and designers are men. But what about the majority? You may take inspiration from exceptions but you don’t base the reality on them. How many men would even accept in front of their peers that they are not interested in the ‘conventional’ jobs for men? Or worse, how many would know that there are ‘other’ kinds of options available?
My job here was to raise the questions, and I have done that. It is now your job to find answers. And one of the first stepping stones is the toy store. Who are we buying for? A girl or a boy?
This article was originally published here.