Wednesday, July 28, 2021

Should We Let Our Boys Play with Girls’ Toys?

April 21, 2013 by  
Filed under Parenting From Balance©

boys' toy, or girls' toy?

Hmmm....boys' toy, or girls' toy?


I have finally taken a stand on this.   I will no longer allow my boys to play with “girls'” toys.  I know this might seem a little radical or deviant, so please bear with me.  I promise you’ll be glad you did.  (It might even stop you from damaging your own child!   😉

It all started last holiday season, when I was in a toy shop looking around for a last minute gift.  An interesting young lady, about 11, caught my notice for some reason.  She was intently surveying a shelf of various science kits and build-able toys like erector sets and legos.  While I was watching, an older person suddenly came out from the back room and paused to assist the girl.


“Who are you shopping for, dear?” the woman asked.


“Myself.” the girl responded.


The woman immediately gestured to the right, “The girls’ toys are over there.”


The girl, looking a bit dazed, obeyed, and shuffled over to the section to which she was directed.


Curious, I asked the woman “What kinds of toys are over there?”  I was genuinely perplexed, imagining pink chemistry sets, perhaps.


The woman said “You know, dolls and things like that.”


“But she was interested in the chemistry sets and other science kits over here!” I responded with surprised dismay.


The woman burped out a short, fat “Oh!” like a bubble from a wand.


I left the store feeling really uneasy, and the longer I thought about it, the more roiled I became!


Thank god the parents of Joan of Arc and Margaret Mead didn’t direct them to the “girls’ ” section!!


Our children (and people in general) hear the way we use language to describe things, and they assimilate it unconsciously (or consciously) as their own.  We pass down our biases to them through our attitudes, actions, and words.   And take note: who is to say that our children are not also internalizing some self-judgement about their own secret preferences or feelings, when we make certain proclamations to them?  Who is to say that our labeling doesn’t cause our children just a little self-revulsion?  Just a little self doubt?  Just a little separation from their intrinsic desires and gifts?


I don’t even know that we could attribute any general tendencies at all to “males” and “females.”  It is a real chicken and egg sort of problem.  When we label things as “boy” or “girl,” male or female, that act of labeling in itself perpetuates the bias.  It is impossible to say for certain whether anything is organically male or female, except perhaps the plumbing itself.


And so, I refuse to consciously perpetuate the biases that keep people from comfortably trying things on.  As much as my awareness will allow me, I refuse to use labels around my children.  I refuse to label jobs, clothing, toys, behaviors, or anything else as “boys’ ” or “girls’. ”

And just think, the tendency to label things as “boy/girl” is just ONE bias that we have in this culture (world?)!

Isn’t it wonderful to know that our journey just keeps unfolding?


Lots of Love,


Riviera PlaySchool in Redondo Beach, CA


9 Responses to “Should We Let Our Boys Play with Girls’ Toys?”
  1. Dina says:

    As a parent, it is your job to label things for your kids; to help them make sense of the world. The paradox you have now set up is that in the effort to not impose biases on them, you are imposing a bias against “labeling” things. The cognitive dissonance that will come from attempting to make sense of that contradiction will be infinitely more damaging than whether a toy is regarded as appropriate for a boy or a girl.

  2. Linda says:


    Thank you for commenting!

    I am interested in understanding your response more fully: can you give an example whereby not labeling something as a “boy” thing or a “girl” thing would set up that paradoxical contradiction that you describe?

    I am also wondering whether I can explain myself more fully.

    I am trying to convey that we should be aware of the attitudes we often unconsciously pass on, because these can limit our children in damaging ways. If we call the job “a woman’s job,” and our son aspires to it, then what are we saying to him about his desire?

    I am not talking about teaching children facts. I am proposing that we call it a “pink ride-on,” and not a “girl’s ride-on.” A “ball cap” and not a “boy’s cap.” Call them “blue” “red” “brown” “dark green” rather than “boys’ colors” and “pink” “orange” “yellow” “pastel” rather than “girls’ colors,” for example. No cognitive dissonance will occur from what I am proposing.

    I am a hopeful that you can understand my message, especially since you yourself studied to become a professional in a typically male dominated field. (I spent years hitting my own head up against a glass ceiling until I realized that I was under the wrong ceiling entirely!)

    If you have further thoughts, as always, I am interested in hearing them, Dina.

    Thank you for taking the time to respond to my blog post!


  3. Dina says:

    In our cultural context, there is no such thing as a girl dress vs. a boy dress. There are dresses and they are for girls;there is make up and it is for girls; there are hair clips and they are for girls. You can dodge labeling a hat or a kiddie car, but you will run smack dab into something that forces you to make a judgment call. You can decide to kick the can down the road and pretend that dresses, make up and hair clips are ok for boys, but it is simply a delay tactic and, more seriously, it is a refusal to be a parent. Ten years from now, don’t count on your son high fiving you for letting him dress like Cinderella on Halloween when he was too young to know better and looked to you for guidance.

    What we are saying to our kids about their desires is that some desires are appropriate and some are not. If a child wants to eat poop, you wouldn’t let him and you wouldn’t worry yourself about damaging him by imposing your view. And, in that kind act of actually parenting – rather than delegating that awesome burden to your children to parent himself – you are providing a framework for navigating the world; your child feels more secure that someone is protecting him, guiding him and has his best interests at heart.

    On another note, there is nothing wrong with labeling something as boy or girl. Nothing. Perhaps it is my professional background that informs my view that not only are there gender differences, in clothing, behavior, etc., but that they are great! When I practiced law, there were situations that played out in my favor BECAUSE I am a woman.

  4. Linda says:

    You make several excellent points in favor of my argument.

    The “cultural context” you speak to is precisely my point. We can change it by being more deliberate in how we cultivate the very biases that then abrade our progress in our own quest to navigate the world.

    I want my children to make choices without fear of ridicule or due to peer pressure (dressing as Cinderella).

    I want them to make choices based on their intrinsic desires; individual strengths, skills, and passions; and our family values (i.e. compassion, right action, honesty, and kindness)

    Dressing as Cinderella goes along with our family value of freedom of expression.

    Eating poop would go against our family value of health and safety; while
    playing kick the can, on the other hand, goes along with it.

    And Dina, you also bring up an excellent and pertinent point, since we are presumably trying to raise compassionate citizens: just why DO people laugh and jeer at others?

    I shared your hypothesis with my 8 3/4 yr. old son, and he was surprised and puzzled by the thought of someone laughing and making fun of someone else for their choice of dress. I then surveyed several grown men in Riviera Village, and every one of them would have preferred to make the decision to dress as Cinderella rather than have their mom intervene. Two of the men were puzzled by the question. One said “I still dress like a woman every Halloween. I think it’s hilarious!”

  5. Dina says:

    My hypothesis had nothing to do with ridicule or making fun of someone else. It is quite easy to erect a straw man to tear down, as opposed to addressing the fundamental issue. Which is…drum roll please…parenting.

    So let us not get sidetracked by running down bunny trails to nowhere.

    Your admission that you have a family value of health and safety that would OVERRIDE your child’s desire to eat poop says it all. Family values are primary and, presumably, they are determined by the…drum roll please…THE PARENTS. Oh, the horror!!!

    What is going on at the core is that you have a bias against those things you define as unhealthy and you impose that bias on your children. FOR THEIR OWN GOOD. That is called parenting. Bravo!

    So let us stop pretending that any of this gender-bending silliness has anything to do with NOT imposing biases. Please develop a principle that is workable and can be consistently applied. Only then, can this approach be given the seriousness it may one day deserve.

  6. Linda says:

    It turns out there are studies and books published on the fallacy of gender differences!

    Here is Alfie Kohn’s recent twitter on the topic (I just happened to find it tonight, by chance!)

    Alfie says: More debunking of the exaggerated claims of gender differences used to support single-sex ed.:

    Lots of Love…enjoy reading!

  7. Linda says:

    I am not asking that we never impose biases in our children and peers….that would be in impossible feat, and likely create a communication lapse (we would have to think so hard all of the time to ensure that we not commit a ‘bias crime’ that we would lose the continuity of our thoughts! 😉

    Instead, I am challenging each of us to try to be as aware as possible of the biases we do have, so we can be clear about which biases we perpetuate. That is the only way we can stop perpetuating them at all!

    As always, it is just baby steps!


  8. Anya says:

    I have been thinking about this spirited exchange and it has had me examine my own ideas about what children should and shouldn’t play with. The issue of gender biases in general is too big of a philosophy debate for me to enter into in this forum but I would say that there does exist a great cultural bias which dictates appropriate girl or boy toys. I saw it yesterday in a store- a large sign that said “GIRL TOYS” under which were packaged in pink- toys for cooking, makeup and little dolls and dollhouses. Nearby was the gender neutral wood kitchen. On the other side of the aisle were what appeared to be boy toys although there were no signs. There were, packaged in blue, super heros, puzzles, bubbles and outdoor games among other gender neutral toys. I wondered if the packaging dictates the gender marketing. Because, my husband is an excellent cook and our son (20 months) loves to play in the real kitchen as well as our gender neutral toy kitchen. He loves to play with my daughter’s tea set as well. My daughter, who will be 4 this summer, loves to play in dirt, she loves to garden, wrestle, puzzles are her favorite right now, and play dough, clay, art. I wonder if these store bought items came in blue packages and were next to action figures, would I still notice that my daughter would like them? I think its helpful to note what is being prescribed culturally- not just in terms of labels, but homogenizing our society and our kids. Its just easier for our society if all the girls did X and all the boy do Y. But parenting, and individuals, like life itself, changes and if we are tuned into our kids and ourselves, I think we can skip the prescriptions for our children and make these labels null and void. Also, my daughters favorite colors are purple and pink and black. I hope my son will love orange and pink as much as my husband does, too. These labels box us in, and while we cannot get rid of them, we can avoid letting them define us.

  9. Linda says:

    Ahhh! “Labels box us in, and while we cannot get rid of them, we can avoid letting them define us.”


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