Breaking gender stereotypes in toys

People attend a rally in support of the Netflix transgender employee walkout in Los Angeles, California. (Photo: Reuters)

Outdated expectations still influence what boys and girls are allowed to play with which stifles creative expression.

TOY STORIES

Imagine yourself standing in front of a toy shelf in a shopping mall. An abundance of colourful plastics and plushes lay in front of you, all within reach. Are you buying for a boy or a girl? And what criteria instinctively comes to mind if, for example, you're buying for a girl? Something pink? Something cute? A doll, soft toy, or things related to arts, crafts and baking?

Would you grab these same toys for boys? Probably not. Your hands may reach instead to miniature cars or toy soldiers.

Toys have long been gendered, made to fit stereotypes and societal norms that dictate certain things as appropriate for girls and others made for boys. In research commissioned by Lego Group, it was found that when it comes to creative play, girls now have a more open attitude and they feel less constrained by the notion that some things are exclusively made for girls and others for boys. Fewer boys feel the same way.

Lego said the company will now work towards more inclusive playing that's not limited by gender biases and harmful stereotypes. Photo: Reuters

But while girls seem ready to push past these norms, perhaps society and even their families have yet to keep up. Results found that girls are generally encouraged to take up cognitive and artistic activities while boys are directed towards Stem-related activities. It's dancing and dressing up versus games and sports, apparently. And when parents are asked what they see when they think of scientists and athletes, they mostly see men.

Another research, conducted by Geena Davis Institute on Gender in Media, surveyed almost 7,000 parents and children in several countries. The most worrying figure to come out of it was that 71% of boys and 42% of girls are worried they'd be made fun of if they played with toys associated with the other gender.

Lego announced that they will now work towards more inclusive play that's not limited by "gender bias and harmful stereotypes".

What does it mean to raise boys to be men and girls to be women? And why are the ideas so unyielding, restrictive and wholly different? Of course, in the narratives of toys and child play, the focus revolves around growth and child development. But beyond that, gender and sexuality are also bound. Society's expectations and roles associated with being a man and woman are being imposed on children from birth, leaving little room for them to wiggle around, explore and carve their own paths -- both in career choices and even gender expressions -- in the present and future.

As already suggested by the study, our society still has a long way to go. Just recently, I witnessed a friend choosing a toy for her nephew when she questioned whether the soft toy would make her nephew queer. She loves the boy and wishes nothing but the best for him that's for sure but telling her that toys are genderless was, unfortunately, in vain. It's undeniable that this sentiment is still very common. Too common, even, when we think that we're now seeing progress and open-mindedness in some other areas and industries. But in something as fundamental and basic as children's toys, gender stereotypes and biases still lurk.

WALKING OUT

People attend a rally in support of the Netflix transgender employee walkout in Los Angeles, California. Photo: Reuters

The showbiz saga that is comedian Dave Chappelle, Netflix and transphobia continues. The controversy began with Chappelle's jokes in his latest Netflix special The Closer, which were deemed transphobic and received backlash from the trans community and allies. There have been calls by activists to remove the show from the streaming platform, though they fell on deaf ears. Ted Sarandos, Netflix's CEO, defended Chappelle's special as artistic freedom. This, together with the suspension and firing of certain trans employees, have the streaming giant in quite the hot seat.

Last week, some of its employees staged a walkout outside Netflix's office in Hollywood and were joined by trans rights protesters. Celebrities also lent their support online. Dan Levy, of Schitt's Creek, posted a message on Twitter to support Netflix employees calling for a "safe and supportive environment".

"I've seen firsthand how vital television can be when it comes to influencing the cultural conversation. That impact is real and works both ways: positively AND negatively. Transphobia is unacceptable and harmful. That isn't a debate," wrote Levy.

Meanwhile, actor Elliot Page, who recently came out as transgender, shared a video supporting the walkout on Instagram with a message saying: "I stand with the trans, non-binary, and BIPOC employees at Netflix fighting for more and better trans stories and a more inclusive workplace."

Both Levy and Page have their works on Netflix.

MONTHLY SNIPPETS

- Wong Kar-Wai's collection of films graced Netflix last week. With that came, of course, Happy Together. Starring Leslie Cheung and Tony Leung, this 1997 romantic drama follows a gay Hong Kong couple and their tumultuous relationship as they journey to Buenos Aires.

I Told Sunset About You. Photo courtesy of Nadao Bangkok

- Nadao Bangkok's Yaoi series I Told Sunset About You was awarded the International Drama Of The Year at the Seoul International Drama Awards 2021. Released last year, and now with a sequel, the series talks about two childhood best friends as they pursue their dreams and romance. The city of Phuket and Thai-Chinese culture provide the backdrops for the budding love story between the two teen boys. Watch Season 1 and 2 on Line TV.

Little Girl is now showing at Doc Club & Pub. Photo: Facebook: Doc Club & Pub

- Head to Doc Club & Pub in Saladaeng to watch Little Girl. This French documentary by Sébastien Lifshitz focuses on a seven-year-old transgender Sasha who has always known she is a girl. It's a story of acceptance and identity as both Sasha and her family navigate strict social norms in a moving journey. Lifshitz has once again delved into the LGBTI theme, following his previous works Wild Side and Bambi, both of which were Teddy Award winners. Visit docclubandpub.com

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