The issue of gender has perhaps never been so contested as it is in today’s society. The ways in which we conceive of gender are increasingly being questioned to reveal many problematic assumptions.
An obvious example is the labelling of children’s toys as either strictly for male or female; you would be hard-pressed to come across lurid-pink coloured toys marketed for young boys. Many of us would perhaps think nothing of this, however, recent research has explored the implications of such stark gender labelling.
In an article submitted at the start of this year, researchers Sui Ping Yeung and Wang Ivy Wong from the University of Hong Kong explored how such labeling reinforced rigid gender notions in children. They put this theory into practice by analysing the responses of 129 nursery children aged between five and seven when asked which toy they would prefer based on colour.
One group of children were told that yellow was considered a ‘girl’s colour’ and green a ‘boy’s colour,’ whilst the second (control) group were left to choose for themselves without swaying their bias. Children were easily conditioned to choose one colour over the other based on such gendering.
In their conclusion, the researchers urged that “the current gender divide should be reconsidered.”
This debate, however, stretches beyond cultural mandating whether certain colours are ‘for girls’ and others ‘for boys’. It feeds into propping up traditional gender norms, which are becoming more and more outdated. Toys that are typically marketed for boys include, for example, toy cars and building sets, whereas girls’ toys tend to typically conjure up an image of Barbie dolls replete with hair and make-up accessories.
It has even been suggested that such rigid cultural reinforcement of these norms from an early age could deter girls from going into fields involving science, engineering, and technology.
The Institution for Engineering and Technology (IET) highlighted this recently, citing that toys that are more STEM-geared are three times as likely to be marketed to boys than girls.
Nonetheless, positive strides are being made every day to dissolve traditional ideas of gender. People in many spaces are increasingly free to identify themselves as they so wish and some would say that the concept of gender as a social construct has become solidly part of the 21st-century zeitgeist.
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