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#6 Re-reading Gendered Play Limitations

nienna's picture

The piece I decided to re-read, talks about the concept of Gendered Play Limitations we acquire in childhood. The author, Rokojo, uses her experience with Legos in kindergarten and how the boys limit her vision of play by calling Legos “boy toys”. She also raises the question of the society and market supporting the Original Lego as “boy toys”and creating the line “Lego Friends” especially for girls, “setting a precedent that girls can't play with "normal" or "boy" Lego sets”. Furthermore, she raises an important point that limitation not only affect girls, but boys when they try to play pretend games. Limiting a play by gender is a historical heritage from a chauvinistic and commercial society, and by doing that we also limit the complete development of a child.

Analyzing the matter under a psychology lens, Sandra Bem`s Gender Schema Theory enlightens the vision on how individuals become gendered and how gender stereotypes became so inherent in our society. Gendered-related information is spread by way of Schematas. Individuals have different degrees of holding those Schematas and such difference is perceived on the degree to which such individuals are sex-typed. Based on that, Bem divides individuals in 4 categories: sex-typed, cross-sex-typed, androgynous and undifferentiated. Sex-typed are the ones who process and integrate information that match their genders, cross-sex-typed process and integrate information from the opposite gender,  androgynous integrate information from both genders and undifferentiated that doesn`t show efficiency processing sex typed information.

Playing in an androgynous way won`t affect child`s sexuality, but it will help develop a sense to kids that they can do more. Why can`t a boy pretend to be one of the famous Disney Princes and a girl have a G. I. Joe doll? The sense of the kids can be more of what society pre-determined for them is what holds Bem`s motivation on the theory.  As Roland Barthes, depicted in his essay Toys: “Dolls which urinate; they have an esophagus, one gives them a bottle, they wet their nappies; soon, no doubt, milk will turn to water in their stomachs. This is meant to prepare the little girl for the causality of house-keeping, to 'condition' her to her future role as mother.” However, doesn`t the little boys, who would be misjudged by the friends and society if played with dolls, have exactly the same chance of being fathers someday as the girls do to be mothers?  

By purchasing such dolls, the Lego Friends, or other sex-typed kind of toy, we might end up acting just as “The White-Saviors” from Teju Cole`s text: “What innocent heroes don’t always understand is that they play a useful role for people who have much more cynical motives”. Parents, schools and even kids by limiting the way children play, are just being pawns in the market chess. By dividing sales in the boys and girls games, the market targets three gender-types of children: sex-typed, cross-sex-typed and androgynous and ends up increasing the profits. Without analyzing the bigger frame on why we limit our children`s play by gender, we end up depriving them from a complete growth. “If we are going to interfere in the lives of others, a little due diligence is a minimum requirement”

            This is why playing without limits, as portrayed on the Industrial ruins texts is so important. Away from the “tomboys” and “sissies” pre-definitions, away from punishments from the parents and away from society a kid`s mind is free to work and imagine, Bem suggests the creation of more androgynous figures in the childhood, suggests that we teach the kids to incorporate both gender-typing Schematas. A girl can play boy games and a boy can play girls games because that way boys and girls will be able to explore both the mini-adulthood as portrayed by Barthes and be able to use their creativity freely. However, currently, a child as Rokojo learns the limits through little friends that mimic what they hear from school and their parents that absorbs sex-typed Schematas mimicked by society and created by… “A singer may be innocent. Never the song”

Works Cited:

  1. Bem, S. L. (1981). Gender schema theory: A cognitive account of sex typing. Psychological Review, 88, 354-364
  2. Barthes, Roland (YEAR). Toys, Mythology. <>
  3. Teju Cole, The White-Savior Industrial Complex. The Atlantic. March 21, 2012.
  4. Tim Edensor, Bethan Evans, Julian Holloway, Steve Millington and Jon Binnie. Playing in Industrial Ruins: Interrogating Teleological Understandings of Play in Spaces of Material Alterity and Low SurveillanceUrban Wildscapes. Ed. Anna Jorgensen and Richard Keenan. New York: Routledge, 2011. 65-79.
  5. Rokojo (2014). Gendered Play Limitation </oneworld/changing-our-story-shifting-identities-altering-environments/gendered-play-limitations>