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Gendering toys is actually ridiculous as this experiment shows

Jess Glass August 25, 2017
Child and adult play with a robot toy

'Oliver' and a volunteer play in the experiment (Photo: BBC)

A BBC experiment has highlighted how gender stereotypes affect how we play with children, even if we don’t know their gender.

Recorded as part of the BBC Two documentary series No More Boys and Girls, Dr Javid Abdelmoneim performed an experiment with several toddlers and adult volunteers to see whether gender impacts the toys we give to children.

Dr Javid swapped the clothes of the toddlers, dressing the children in clothes typically associated with an ‘opposite’ gender in a video experiment you can watch below.

He then told the unsuspecting adult volunteers that Marnie and Edward were actually ‘Oliver’ and ‘Sophie’, then stood back to see how the volunteers interacted with the children.

They were given a selection of toys to play with, including stuffed animals, building bricks and dolls.

Volunteers stuck to strict gender stereotypes without even realising. One participant saw ‘Sophie’ playing with a robot toy and quickly offered ‘her’ a soft toy to play with instead.

No More Boys and Girls story,
‘Sophie’ playing with a robot toy and being offered a soft toy instead. (Photo: BBC)

After Dr Javid revealed that ‘Sophie’ was actually Edward, the participant said: “I maybe thought ‘this is a little girl, so I have to give her little girl things.'”

The documentary questioned what happens when a class of seven-year-olds is raised ‘gender neutral’ to monitor the class’ attitudes and academic changes over six weeks.

Over the six weeks, girls’ self-confidence was shown to have risen, and boys were seen to be more caring and more able to express their emotions, decreasing bad behaviour by 57 percent.

No More Boys and Girls pointed out the importance of allowing children to play with toys regardless of their gender, as different toys teach different skills.

Toys that are gendered as ‘boys toys’ such as building blocks, often teach skills like spatial awareness and physical confidence.

Dr Javid argued that these differences and gender socialisation itself may contribute to future career choices and the discrepancy between men and women in STEM fields.

Discussion of gender neutral schooling is on the rise, with a recent Swedish study showed that young children who go to gender neutral preschools are more likely to play with other children regardless of gender and freely use gender neutral pronouns.

Once Doctor Javid told the adult volunteers about the experiment, they were all shocked about how easily they had fallen into stereotyping.

One volunteer who had played with ‘Sophie’ said: “I automatically went for the pink fluffy toy because I said it was a girl so it shows I was stereotyping.”

Another participant said: “I’ve always thought I was rather more open minded than that and I would think these are children’s toys, whatever the gender.”

The documentary was criticised by a number of people, with Conservative party councillor Mary Douglas stating that the show was “potentially very harmful” to children.

Doctor Javid responded to the criticism, telling the Telegraph: “One, this is absolutely not about gender identity. Two, in no way could you imagine anyone ever trying to steer children in a way that’s harmful.

“We’re talking about the BBC. I’m a doctor. Their parents and teachers were involved. Three, watch the programme and then if you still want to hold that view – well, then you’re daft.”

Watch the experiment here:

More: BBC, Children, gender, gender neutral, LGBT, No more boys and girls, sociology, Television

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