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Gender Roles and Play

Gender Roles and Play

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Gender Roles and Play

            Although play is never completely limited, it can be dictated by societal norms and authority figures. As many people experience in their childhood, boys and girls are usually given different toys at very young ages. Young girls are usually given baby dolls, Barbie dolls, toy kitchens, or china dolls; whereas boys are usually given hot wheels, superhero comics, action figures, GI Joes, and building blocks. According to the article “Taking Play Seriously,” by Robin Marantz Henig and “Playing in Industrial Ruins,” the play-as-preparation hypothesis states that play could be used as preparation for adult life and survival. If this is the case, as the observations show, children are predisposed to a certain type of career or lifestyle at the very beginning of their childhood. This type of predisposition can have grave developmental effects and brings up the question of if children are able to play freely or not.

            “Taking Play Seriously” describes observations of animals during play and how their play relates to their later roles in adulthood. Animals play to practice what they will need to do later in life to survive. For example, animals play by running, chasing, and fighting. According to this hypothesis, animals learn to play the way that they are supposed to survive later in life. However, when this hypothesis is related to children it becomes more problematic. Children aren’t exactly able to chose what type of play they are exposed to. Children don’t need to learn to survive through play like animals do. Children are exposed to gender roles and gender norms that have been dictated for them by society. Toys are one out of many ways that children are morphed into societies version of “normal.”

            Just as play can be limited or constricted by the environment, like industrial ruins, it can also be limited by the people who define it. In this case, society and the toy industry define what play is to what people. To young girls play is preparation for motherhood and domestic life, and for young boys play is preparation for mechanical and technological careers. For some time, this was never questioned; girls just played with dolls and boys just played with toy cars and Legos. However, it obviously had grave developmental effects on both young girls and young boys. Girls grew up more humble and less likely to put themselves out in the workforce, especially in the STEM field, and boys grew up unable to connect to their sensitive paternal side. The toy industry exacerbates this by marketing these toys specifically to either boys or girls. They do so mainly by the color of the packaging. The toy industry is not the only one to blame for the separation of play between young boys and young girls. Parents usually push their children in one way or the other based on gender. For example, when young girls play outside, parents usually make sure they do not get “too” dirty, when boys have no limits. Also, when young girls have trouble completing a task, parents often use the phrase “let your brother do it.” These subtle comments and rules have grave effects and are directly related to the play-as-preparation hypothesis. When these limits are put on young girls by their parents, they are preparing themselves for a life without adventure and challenges. When limits are put on play, and when play is separated by gender, both young boys and young girls are put into a box and not allowed to grow out of it.

            When the toy industry and parents begin to realize how limiting and separating play effects both young boys and girls developmentally, they can begin to change the way they market and approach the concept of play. When young girls are given engineering related toy and young boys are given kitchen sets and dolls, they are able to prepare themselves for the adulthood they want. Play is not entirely free; instead it is limited by the toy industry, society, and authority figures, like parents. However, play can be free when all parts of society realize the detrimental effect play has on the development of both young girls and boys.

            “Taking Play Seriously” and “Industrial Ruins” both describe versions of the play-as-preparation hypothesis and allude to how this effects children into adulthood. Play does prepare children for adulthood and the type of play that boys and girls participate in should not be dictated by anyone but himself or herself.