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Is it a boy-toy or a girl-toy?

Toys for Boys and Girls

I wish there were less gender discrimination in toys. Toy manufacturers have little choice but to gear their packaging designs and marketing towards specific genders when the product warrants it, but that means it’s up to parents to keep an open mind.

My son is only 16 months old, but he’s already far more obsessed with trucks than either of my daughters ever were. But he also LOVES their dolls, and will tote around a Corolle Calin for hours, cuddling it and pushing it in a doll stroller. Would we know this if he didn’t have two older sisters? I’m pretty sure I would have bought him a doll anyway. Because I’m a modern, open-minded mom.

Case in point: I never played with dolls as a kid. I thought they were dumb. When my daughters both fell hard for American Girl dolls, I didn’t stand in their way. See? Open minded. Equal opportunity (even for toys we don’t sell).

What’s up with the gender preferences anyway? I googled “why do boys like trucks?” and the first result was a fascinating blog posting on the Psychology Today website. In contrast to the long-standing assumption that boys and girls are socialized to prefer specific types of toys, scientists have now found that monkeys show similar gender-based preferences for toys. Boy monkeys like trucks and girl monkeys like dolls.

Fine, maybe the monkeys didn’t have open-minded moms (or big sisters). My son likes dolls AND trucks, and that’s fine.

But what if he wants to wear a dress?

A couple of years ago, when my oldest was in kindergarten, she had a playdate with a little boy in her class. She put on a fairy dress and her playmate found a ball gown. He pulled on the dress, and my daughter laughed and said, “what are you doing? Boys aren’t supposed to wear dresses.” I was quick to admonish her and encouraged the boy to feel free to wear anything he liked. And he did, frolicking around in the gown and having a grand old time while my daughter eyed him suspiciously, but kept her mouth shut.

It was my first inkling that being open-minded is slightly more complex with boys than it is with girls. Had the playdate scenario been reversed, and my daughter had wanted to don a pirate costume, no one would have batted an eye.

So what if my son wants to wear a dress? I’ll probably reach for the camera. But my husband might not think it’s cute. Or he might. If he’s open-minded.

Open-mindedness does get harder as kids become more tuned in to the cultural gender expectations. Give an 8 year old girl a Bionicle and she’ll probably think you handed her the wrong package. Give an 8 year old boy a Friendship Bracelet kit, and he’ll wonder what you were thinking. But there are plenty of toys in the middle of the road, great toys that can, with a little help, cross the gender barrier and be wonderful and engaging. As we are making our product recommendations this year, and as you are doing your shopping, let’s all look for those items, be open-minded and buy the things you think your kids will enjoy – regardless of what color scheme is on the package.


  1. Sheri – I think you would really like the new book Pink Brain Blue Brain, I’m reading it now and there’s really great info on what play patterns are innate, what are not, why AND (most importantly) what you can do to compensate. She also really looks at all the studies and gives you more info than any article does (for example – the girl monkeys that liked cooking pots? may have just liked the color red.)

  2. i do believe there is something that makes boys like trucks and girls like dolls. i had my daughter after my son and she had no “girl” toys at first but would take his action fugures or his stuffed animals and hug them and call them baby as young as a yeatr. this was without any outside influence. Now at 3 she is a very girly girl who love s to be rough and play sports with her brother. And her 7 year old brother who love sports is jealous of the american girl dolls. So who knows what is the case. iT IS A VERY INTERSTING TOPIC TO DISCUSS!!!

  3. Great post to read as my 17 month old son is vacuuming the kitchen. As someone very sensitive to society’s reinforcement of gender roles and negative body image, it is always a pleasure to hear from moms who have the same concerns.

    (Just did my Xmas shopping at Magic Beans in Wellesley and gladly bought my 9 year old nephew a journal kit and bit my tongue (HARD) as I bought my 8 year old niece the Project Runway Fashion Design Projector. Well, I try 🙂

  4. Completely agree! I was musing about this on my blog a little while ago, when I bought my son a dollhouse for his birthday. It’s interesting that it’s okay now for girls to play with boy things, but not for boys to play with girl things. It’s as if feminism obtained some objectives (at least for the toddler set), but what’s the male equivalent?

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