Tue. Dec 7th, 2021

Lego announced this week that it would work to remove gender stereotypes from its brand, including no longer marketing toys clearly to boys or girls and ensuring that the products are gender neutral.

This step from one of the world’s most powerful brands comes in response to research that the Danish toy manufacturer was given the task of understanding how parents and children think about creativity.

The survey of nearly 7,000 parents and children across seven countries found strong support for traditional gender roles among both boys and girls, with 78 percent of boys and 73 percent of girls agreeing “it’s okay to teach boys to be boys and girls to be girls “.

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Lego will no longer market to boys and girls separately. (Getty)

71 percent of boys were worried about being judged or made fun of playing with sex toys for girls, and 54 percent of parents worry about their sons being made fun of if they play with toys related to girls , against only 26 percent of parents who care about the opposite.

Overall, the results suggest that boys feel more pressure to adapt to gender roles and norms for creative activities than girls. But other people’s perceptions and beliefs can also hold girls back. When toys are gendered, all children pay the price.

We have recently conducted a systematic review of gender stereotypes and prejudices in early childhood.

Awareness of gender as a social category develops early in life, and insight into some gender stereotypes begins early. For example, preschool children may have beliefs such as That boys can be cops, and only girls can be teachers or nurses.

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Gender and racial stereotypes and prejudices can be observed in children as young as three to four years old, as children take tracks from around them to decode and understand the world.

Shopping and ‘arrangement of things’

When children observe different toys and tasks for different groups, they can learn stereotypes and prejudices, such as considering shopping as an activity for girls and “repairing things” and using tools as activities for boys. This can reinforce rigid binary views on gender.

Such stereotypes and prejudices can be carried throughout life, making early childhood critical to form the basis of lifelong attitudes.

Lego research found parents more likely to encourage their daughters to participate in activities that are more cognitive, artistic, and performative (dressing, dancing, coloring, singing, and arts and crafts) and more likely to encourage their sons to engage more in digital activities, science and building.

Beliefs and expectations about what types of toys and games are appropriate for girls and boys can be put together over time.

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Traditionally, girls’ Lego sets were based on female stereotypes. (Getty)

Some studies show that playing with some stereotypical girls’ toys, such as princess toys, is associated with more female gender stereotypical behavior among children.

Not playing with construction toys may mean that girls miss out on opportunities to develop spatial skills and mechanical reasoning skills necessary for careers in science, technology, engineering, and mathematics: areas where women remain underrepresented.

Rigid gender lines

Toys are just one way children learn gender roles and stereotypes: they also learn from who they see around them in their daily lives, from the books they read and the TV series they watch. Parents and caregivers have a key role to play in encouraging children of all genders to participate in a wide range of activities and toys.

But since the 1970s, toys have become more and more demarcated along binary gender lines.

Even Lego’s own marketing history demonstrates this: compare the gender-neutral commercials of the early 1980s to newer gender-specific marketing with pink bricks and heart shapes.

Preventing potentially harmful gender attitudes and stereotypes in childhood – before they become entrenched – is a key element in achieving gender equality and supporting health and well-being throughout life.

Efforts to reduce the gendered nature of toys and their marketing are a step we can take to give all children more equitable opportunities for how they see themselves, the world and their future.

Naomi Priest Professor, ANU Center for Social Research and Methods, Australian National University and Tania King, Fellow, University of Melbourne.

This article was republished from The conversation under a Creative Commons license. Read original article.

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