Points of view: Are gender-specific toys damaging?

Yes: give children autonomy, choice

A Connecticut teen has become a gender equality sensation after her letter to McDonald’s headquarters went viral online. In the letter, Antonia Ayres-Brown wrote about how displeased she was with McDonald’s for how it passes out toys for its Happy Meals.

She said when her family would visit the fast food restaurant, they would ask if the family would prefer a “boy toy” or a “girl toy,” which Ayers-Brown compared to asking an adult applying for a job if they preferred a man’s job or a woman’s job.

This letter shows the positive direction in which society is shifting, away from gender-constricting norms for children and toward more androgynous self-awareness.

Particularly for children, stepping away from gender identity norms is important in their psychosocial development.

A child who is met with negative punishment, even something as simple as discouragement for acting outside of their gender expectations, can often have low self-esteem. They will likely grow up with little understanding of themselves and the opposite gender.

When children are relieved of pressure to conform to gender-specific situations, they are able to flourish as individuals. They don’t become boxed into liking pink or blue, Barbies or Hot Wheels, but can instead explore their own likes and dislikes, building their sense of self.

Though it is just a cheap toy from a fast food restaurant and though I recognize that there will never be full androgyny in society, McDonald’s hands out millions of Happy Meal toys every year to kids.

Choosing a gender-neutral toy could be one step toward keeping all those little boys and little girls from feeling pressured to choose what is considered correct for their gender.

Removing the question of whether or not a child wants a toy specifically for their gender would give them more autonomy in what they choose to play with. It’s not ludicrous to think a girl would want to play with Hot Wheels and that a boy would want to play with Barbies.

If society is to move forward and create more equality between men and women, then it will have to start with the youth learning to consider themselves equal. It will have to start with big influencers like McDonald’s providing as gender-neutral situations as possible.

Taylor Rexrode is a senior journalism major from Forney. She is the arts and entertainment editor for The Lariat.

No: don’t keep girls from being girls

I have countless fond memories of sitting cross-legged in the middle of my teddy bear tea party bedroom, wearing an outfit with the latest Disney princess of the moment on it and playing house with the multitude of Barbie dolls that populated my space.

When I wasn’t hard at work keeping the personal lives of Barbie and Ken in check, I raised my baby dolls and fed them regularly with the tantalizing plastic food in my play kitchen. In my limited free time, dressing up in glittery costumes and rummaging in my mom’s makeup and jewelry relieved a bit of the daily stress a 4-year-old faces.

As a child of this particular generation, I’m sure I described the upbringing of plenty other little girls. However, the traditional idea of reveling in the joys of being a girl has been under fire lately.

While there is undoubtedly a big difference in boy and girl appropriate toys, a new outrage of criticism for equality in children’s toys has insinuated a gender role genocide and made all things girly out to be the one at fault.

When did it become taboo to be feminine? Why is pink no longer a color of confidence but rather of cowardice?

Not all children’s toys and “make believe” props are targeted toward one or the other. Many a dress-up time, I sported my pink Power Ranger outfit from a television show that catered to boys and girls.

Granted, there are countless gender-neutral toys on the market that serves the interests of any little one, despite age or sex. Legos, Tinker Toys, blocks and board games foster innovation and creativity that benefits both girls and boys.

A walk down the aisles of any toy store reveals obvious separations in merchandise; pastels and frills for the girls don one side while Hot Wheels and play power tools line the other. Many feel it has segregated girls rather than generate appropriate interests in one direction or the other.

To me, it’s no different than 10 or 20 years ago when the parents making the fuss about male or female McDonald’s toys played with either dolls or action figures themselves.

We have gender roles for a reason to fit the physiological differences between the sexes. This doesn’t mean alienating girls to fulfill their duties learned while playing house or expecting boys to romp around and take a power role.

You think I play like a girl? You’re darn right I do.

Taylor Griffin is a junior journalism major from Tyler. She is the news editor for The Lariat.