Distinctions between girls’ and boys’ world of toys

There is a general split in girls’ and boys’ games and the toys they play with from 5-6 years when the traditional gender differences in society associated with certain types of individual toys become clearer.

Differences and similarities

Similarities in the toys boys and girls play with from the age of six years include:

  • LEGO/DUPLOproducts, games, drawing/painting/cutting out, ball, bicycle and books. Less specific similarities and differences can also be registered but for the present we will look just at generalities.

From the age of 6, it is true to state generally that only boys play with:

  • cars, Playmobil, Action Force, guardian dolls, computer/PC, toolbox, farming(farm/farm animals), magazines/comic books, Transformers/He Man and football games.

Generally speaking, from the age of six only girls play with:

  • adult female doll(Barbie), dolls/dolls’ pram, jumping/rolling/hopscotch, dressing-up, teddy bear, soft toy, symbolic animal, writing paper (drawing/collecting) and partly sewing/weaving/knitting.

An increasing dissimilarity between the girls’ and boys’ worlds manifests itself in the list of individual toys with which girls and boys respectively play has been described by Gilligan (1982) and from the Danish perspective by Fasting (1989).

The majority of studies dealing with psychological theories about gender specific socialisation through toys - e.g. Blomberg  (1981), Eisenberg et al (1982, 1984), Liss (1983), Robinson (1985) and Dines Andersen (1989) to name but a few - mention:

  • constructiontoys, cars, tools and machines as typical boys’ toys and
  • dolls, dressing-upclothes, jumping/rolling/hopscotch and games as typical girls’ toys.

Boys and girls alike draw/paint/cut out and play hide-and-seek. To a certain extent, boys and girls both play with LEGO/DUPLO products although this applies only to the youngest children.

When many parents and educators mention that the cleft between the boys’ and girls’ worlds is widening, they do so in tune with the same pessimist rhetoric as social-ecologically oriented researchers, e.g. Retter (1987), Spanhel (1991) and Winnicot:

  • socialisation and adaptation to solitude and separation
  • individuality is the pricewe pay for socialisation
  • emotional loss is compensated by other new human or material alternatives
  • and particularly in conflictsituations and transition from one stage of development to the next on human, social and ecological levels
  • increasingly many new criteria for freedom, especially for girls.

According to Fasting (1989, 1992 chapter 16), as soon as gender consciousness develops, girls have little or no use for boys in daily life. They neither associate socially nor engage with them in emotional exchange. This is due to changes in the concepts of the masculine and feminine “ideals”, bringing about a new type of pursuit of both masculine and feminine ideals. This in turn necessitates revision of ethical standards and emotional value norms which create new and different intimate, group and family patterns.

As earlier mentioned, certain implements are universal and have not developed to any significant extent during the course of the history of Mankind. However, change creates new implements and, because toys are copies of the adults’ implements on all levels (material as well as symbolic), toys will change and new toys will evolve.

Toys children don’t like

There are no international accounts of or research into toys children don’t like or simply hate. However, children’s different attitudes to certain types of toys and why they feel the way they do are extremely subjective.

In my research the children were asked: “Toys you hate! Do you own a toy you don’t like? Who gave you the toy? On what occasion did you receive it? Where is the toy now?”

80 children - 44 girls and 36 boys (out of a total 401 respondents) - said that they had a toy they hated. 52 of their responses were distributed in the following way:

14 dolls                                           8 girls - 6 boys

9 guardian dolls                            4 girls - 4 boys

4 war dolls                                     1 girl   - 3 boys

9 symbolic animals                       3 girls - 6 boys

28 of the responses related to a variety of things: specific references included four books, three games, two Playmobil, two dolls’ houses and two inventory items.

In several cases, the children describe the toys they don’t like as “bad”, “keeps breaking”, “ugly” or “cheap plastic garbage”.

That some children don’t like a certain story or game they always lose seems obvious. However, almost half the toys the children didn’t like were some kind of doll or symbolic animal and much of it could be described as “diffuse”. By “diffuse” we mean unrealistic toys which mix things and objects from different places and times. The children either find it difficult to identify or simply cannot see the logic or realism in this kind of toy. Toys of this kind don’t fit into the picture the children have of toys as copies of something real and familiar.

According to about the transitional phenomenon and the transitional object, the object disappoints the child. The toy lacks the qualities the child imagines or needs in the circumstances for which it was purchased. The object has insufficient compensation value - or is simply a lousy product, poorly designed and shoddily manufactured.

In any case, the toy has failed to add value and quality to the child’s play. The toy has not enabled the child to create creative imaginative images, to experiment or to move into the “third room” which is Winnicot’s description of  the particular mental area the child is in when he plays - a place between imagination and reality, between the inner world of the imagination and the external reality of the world around him.



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