Elma Family Kitty Motherhood Pause for Thought Pip

On pink and blue toys

Space for the Butterflies - an eclectic handmade family life

Kitty’s Rainbow Fairy: who says fairies are pink and frilly!


My new playground friend looked across at me as we pushed our littlest daughters on the swings, and chatted about the big girls’ deep love for all things Frozen.

“But if you don’t mind me asking, how are you going to manage about the toys? Now you have a boy as well I mean.”

I simply stood there with a slight frown and probably a bit of a guppy fish expression.  I can understand the curiosity; we both have two girls, the eldest a couple of days apart and the younger two with a few months between them, but only I have a little boy as well.  I guess she wondered what difference that would make, and how I would fit a whole extra set of toys into my lounge.  And I thought about our lounge and the toys piled up around it, the stacks of books, the building blocks, the mountain of Duplo, the train tracks and our play kitchen, and I couldn’t really see that anything would change.

We’ve got plenty of pink and girly bits and bobs around our house and sometimes it feels like every princess dress ever made is stuffed into our dressing up box or trailing all over the floor in a glittery Disney explosion, but on the whole our toys are stereotype free.  They’re not gender specific and they won’t change when Pip gets big enough to start pulling them out all over the floor.  Even the play kitchen is red and blue not pink and flowery, mainly because H and I were determined to choose one that we’d like to look at evening after evening.

And it made me wonder whether there is an expectation that just as I’ve used different clothes for Pip (well apart from the vests because I’m certain that little boys can also wear vests with a cupcake and bunnies on the front), I’ll also need different toys.  Blue ones.  That say BoyDiggerTruckTrainScience all over them.

Bringing up two girls there’s been a little voice in the back of my head that tells me to make sure that I get the balance right, to make sure that they know that they can do anything they want, that the pink comes without stereotypes or enforced gender consequences.  And from the girl-mummy point of view it feels like in some way we’re always fighting; fighting for recognition that not all girls toys have to be pink, that Duplo fire stations don’t have to live in the ‘boy’ aisle and washing up sets under ‘girl’, or that computer programming can be done by girls (I’m looking at you Barbie).  And yet if Kitty decided to pass over the princess dresses in favour of a rocket launching kit I doubt anyone would look askance at it, think it was strange, or wonder why on earth she would want to do that; I think we’ve moved on enough that she wouldn’t be labelled a geek and I know for a fact that both of her parents would happily play rockets.

But what about Pip, what about my gorgeous sweet happy little boy?  Right now his small collection of favourite toys includes a Lamaze dolly named Emily.  She’s got a nice crinkly pink dress, and a flowery rattle and all sorts of very chewable texture all over her hat and the hem of her frock.  Pip likes to try to eat her, just as both of his sisters did before him.  Because this is a handmedown, a dolly bought for a very tiny Kitty, loved by Elma and now passed on to Pip.  I didn’t have a moment’s hesitation about buying it for Kitty, but I wonder whether I would have bought it had Pip been my eldest child.

And as he gets bigger, what if his heart’s desire is a little pram to push his teddies in; what if he wants princess Duplo and isn’t bothered about the train.  I suspect that that won’t be the case but I hope that I have the courage to let him follow his heart.  I have no doubt that at some point Pip will spend many happy afternoons playing dress up in our princess dresses.  He’s got two big sisters, access to a lot of dresses, and they’re all glittery and sparkly and all things wonderful.  But whereas Kitty went to the chip shop with Grandad in her Rapunzel dress without a care, if Pip wanted to do the same I rather fear he’d either be mistaken for a girl or be on the receiving end of glances that at best would be confused.

And that made me wonder what it is that we’re teaching our children.  If the gender equality is in fact only one way (girls can like boy things) is the message that our children are receiving not that it’s just as good to be a girl as a boy, but still that boys are better, just with the caveat that girls can be like boys too? That it’s OK for our girls to like ‘girly’ things but that they should also strive to be just like the boys; but as for the boys themselves, well why would they want to do ‘girly’ things?

I don’t doubt that there is still some way to go in society’s perceptions of our girls, but I think that that’s only half of it.  I’m beginning to think that just as big a challenge is needed to the boy stereotype as the girl.  If we can teach our boys that it’s perfectly OK to want to play princesses and our girls to blow up the kitchen with chemistry experiments maybe we can pincer movement all of these preconceived ideas about children.

So that hopefully, finally, one day, toys will just be toys.



You Might Also Like

  • Claire 05/03/2015 at 8:48 am

    I totally agree! I have 2 girls Friends have actually told me off when threy see we have a (blue) play kitchen which has made me really cross! Of course we shouldn’t have girls toys and boys toys but that doesn’t mean we should stop children playing with a toy just because it is seen as gender stereotyping. The way our children learn about gender is by watching their parents. My husband does all the cooking on our house so I would be shocked if our girls think a woman’s role is in the kitchen. The way we have chosen toys for them is based on their current interests, be that toy garages or disney princesses!

    • Carie 05/03/2015 at 10:19 pm

      We’ve tried to do the same for our choice of toys but I think that it’s only with Pip that any form of preconceived ideas about what he should be playing with are coming in – with the girls they’re either being traditionally feminine or rocking girl power. I love that your husband cooks so the girls won’t see that as a woman’s job unless they want to.

  • Playathometeacher 05/03/2015 at 8:56 am

    Fantastic post. Really interesting read.

    • Carie 05/03/2015 at 10:20 pm

      thank you 🙂

  • Kim 05/03/2015 at 12:28 pm

    I think you hit the nail on the head with your last paragraph. We need to make it okay for our boys to play with whatever they like, without putting our beliefs on them.

    I remember clearly when my little man wanted his first bike, and all he talked about was getting a pink one. My hubby was not having any of it, but after we talked about it, he came around. I explained to him that my little man had no idea that pink was for girls, as society has dictated, and that what he saw was a bike in a colour he liked, and how fun it would be to ride it. He didn’t end up with the pink bike, when we finally went shopping a red one was chosen, by my little man, but if he had chosen the pink one that would have been okay too 🙂

    • Carie 05/03/2015 at 10:21 pm

      I think that’s really wonderful that you were happy with whatever he choose, but I can kind of see where your husband’s reluctance came from too – when you know that a choice might raise eyebrows you just naturally want to protect your children from anything that might subject them to that sort of judgement.

  • juie 05/03/2015 at 1:13 pm

    i have 3 boys ages 1o ,12,and 14 years and a little girl almost 4 years ,all boys had a doll buggy and one was given a pram that was yellow with a lady bird coloured hood , my now 12 year old loved dressing up with his brothers but he liked to dress up as Annie from the film Annie and wore a long red top as a dress , he also loved dolls . They had a kitchen and cleaning set and also cars action man etc. They are long passed those days and the younger two only play with wrestling figures now, but they are growing up fine they love football and are no different to other boys there ages.And my daughter plays with cars , trains dinosaurs as well as dolls etc and I know she will be a fine lady one day . I think you need to go with what you and your child are happy with and also at nursery they all play with the so called boy, girl toys and it is accepted . Try not to worry and go with what your son enjoys .Also make the most of them while they are still little they grow up way too fast. And have fun as he starts to see the world around him and starts to show you what he likes as his little personality shines.

    • Carie 05/03/2015 at 10:23 pm

      Aww thank you – your boys sound wonderful, I love how they’ve embraced everything as just toys and got on with being happy!

  • Carlin 05/03/2015 at 6:12 pm

    I love your perspective, I think the key is being ok with what your children choose, whatever it may be. Most of the little boys I know couldn’t get enough sparkly pink and purple when they were little – and of those little toy strollers – the kids would lose all control trying to get a turn with one at the park. Of course they were all girl-owned, which I thought a bit sad and also ironic because plenty men are happy pushing strollers around. I hope you are right about toys just being toys again, but I am constantly amazed at the marketing out there. Our struggle here is less gender based and more about cheap junk and what’s available (for girls).
    Great post, not having boys I haven’t given that side of it as much thought.

    • Carie 05/03/2015 at 10:24 pm

      It’s funny, I hadn’t either until my friend suggested that there might need to be boy toys that are not girl toys – it’s interesting seeing things from both angles now I have girls and a boy.

  • Donna 05/03/2015 at 10:35 pm

    This is such a wonderful post. I have been the same as you – we have a lot of toys in our house, mainly wooden and generic stereotype-free toys but there are pink toys too – the kitchen is pink as it was cheaper, we’ve inherited a pink plastic hoover and LP has the obligatory pink fairy wings. As Little Man started to explore he played with the pink Duplo and everything else. He doesn’t care about the colour and I haven’t bothered to buy the ‘boy’ version as it doesn’t matter to any of us. Friends though have had the same reaction as your playground friend – but he’s a boy! x

    • Carie 06/03/2015 at 9:54 pm

      It’s funny that pink toys still get that sort of a reaction isn’t it – I would never have expected it until I had a little boy of my own and started to get those sorts of comments.

  • Love the Little Things - 10/52 - #LittleLoves - What the Redhead said 06/03/2015 at 7:14 am

    […] things I try to do although my good habits do slip at times.  Carie also wrote a great post about pink and blue toys that sums up my feelings so well but much more […]

  • Eline @ Pasta & Patchwork 06/03/2015 at 1:00 pm

    As always you’ve described the problem so well. It’s one that I never gave much thought to pre-babies and I was even relieved when I found out I was having a boy as I thought “at least we won’t have to fight the pink stereotyping”. As you’re finding out too, the reality is of course totally different. Boys fall victim to gender stereotyping just as much, and I think the potential effect of that is just as detrimental.

    • Carie 06/03/2015 at 9:56 pm

      Poor babies one and all – I wonder whether our parents had the same problems, or was the stereotyping just more acceptable?

  • Rachel @ The Ordinary Lovely 06/03/2015 at 8:35 pm

    I’ve never really though about toys being gender-specific, I simply buy for my boys’ personalities. Despite both being the same sex, as they’re their own little people, they like completely different things, just as, I imagine, a boy and a girl would, or having a girl and a girl. My eldest has had a pram, dolls, a dolls house, plastic jewellery but my littlest only has eyes for cars and trains. I think you have absolutely the right perspective. A toy is a toy, there’s no need to label it male or female despite manufacturers attempting to do so.

    • Carie 06/03/2015 at 10:05 pm

      Do you think they’re trying to do so to make us buy everything twice if we have a boy and a girl?

  • sustainablemum 09/03/2015 at 9:05 am

    This is a great post. Like so many facets of parenting it always feels like you are going against the tide. It is not that long ago that pink was a colour only for boys…..

    • Carie 09/03/2015 at 9:28 pm

      I know – it’s crazy when you thing about it in the historical context isn’t it!

  • sally 09/03/2015 at 12:12 pm

    So many of our toys have also been for both the girls and the boys, and the most enduring and popular toys are definitely gender neutral – I think just because they are the ones for us that are better made and classics. But, and I would not have thought this pre-children, there is definitely a genetic as well as environmental difference between the way girls play and the way boys play – in my family anyway! Both our boys had soft toys and dolls and never wanted to play with them – whereas the girls show a much more nurturing side with them all the time. Happily they’re equally at home outside in the mud! I’m sure that’s not the case with all boys/girls, but I think as parents it’s harder than just the pink/blue stereotypes, it’s about embracing the character of your child but also trying to gently develop a balanced nature in them too, and open them up to ideas and perspectives that maybe aren’t so inherently natural to them.

    • Carie 09/03/2015 at 9:10 pm

      Oh that’s interesting – have only really seen my girls play with toys and only having a sister myself I’ve not really thought about there being an inherent difference. But I do see the differences in Kitty and Elma; Elma has been more about teddies and blankies and Kitty is more about making things than role play; it’ll be interesting to see what Pip comes out with when his playing is more than just chewing!