Boys will be be boys, and girls will be girls. Or so say our toy stores
One of my biggest parenting pet peeves is the insane, almost obsessive propensity for the toy and kids’ clothing industry to market their products toward either girls or boys. Take a stroll down the aisles of big box toy and clothing stores and you’ll see a clear gender divide between the boys’ section and the girls’ section with very little middle-ground.
Boy aisles in toy stores (which are often decorated with blue signage) are full of toys promoting building or engineering, fighting, vehicle play, and traditionally “male” occupations or pastimes like Firefighter dress-up clothes or tool boxes.
Girl aisles (yep, they’re often pink) are full of toys promoting nurturing and home-making: kitchen sets and baking, vacuums, dolls, doll houses, and dress-up toys for all things princess.
This bothers me not just as the mother of a little girl whose future can be (if she so chooses) so much more than tending to home and family, but also as an adult human being who thinks boys shouldn’t be socialized to shy away from toys that promote nurturing.
The way we divide our children’s stores, and the way we promote toys to parents and by extension to children, only reinforces these stereotypes, and makes children feel awkward playing with toys traditionally marketed toward the other gender. This is done in large part through the colours with which we design and package products. I gave up searching for a baby doll stroller in a shade other than pink because, frankly, they just don’t exist in mainstream toy stores at a reasonable budget (I found one online for $50 before shipping). My hunt for a gender-neutral baby doll that comes with gender-neutral baby dolls accessories and clothes was also fruitless. I know these things exist, but they are expensive and hard to find.
That said, there are shops and brands out there that do a fantastic job marketing totally fun gender-neutral items. So for those of you who, like, me, are trying to keep your home from filling up with plastic toys in all-pink or all-blue, here are my faves:
– Toys –
Melissa and Doug
If you’re looking for gender-neutral play, you know you’re in the right place when you’re on the Melissa and Doug website because there is no drop-down menu for “girls” toys and “boys” toys. This company specializes in wooden toys, including puzzles, food play and musical instruments. Their products are easy to find, since they are carried at Chapters/Indigo, Mastermind, Toys R Us, Amazon, and at most boutique toy stores.
Hape also specializes in wooden (and bamboo) toys with zero attempt to market any product with gender in mind. Products include puzzles, doll houses and accessories, train sets, instruments, imagination play (kitchen and food, tool boxes), scooters, and arts and crafts (to name a few). Hape products can be found in the same stores as Melissa and Doug products. My daughter has the Hape tool box and it’s one of her favourite toys.
Ikea doesn’t have the same variety of toys as Melissa and Doug and Hape, but is equally gender-neutral and also specializes in imaginary home play (wooden kitchen sets, plus toy food) as well as stuffed animals, finger puppets and wooden toys for babies. The prices are hard to beat.
Blabla kids is one of those delightful companies that makes whimsical toys, bedding and decor for children. Its toy selection is mostly limited to a great selection of knit dolls, finger puppets and rattles.
The company also sells stamps, mobiles, and knit pillows.
– Nursery decor –
Again! Remember how I just celebrated Blabla kids’ awesome selection of knit stuffies and toys? They also have great gender-neutral and totally adorable blankets and crib bedding.
I discovered Ivie Baby when I was pregnant with my daughter. My husband and I didn’t plan on finding out the baby’s gender and were finding decorating the nursery nearly impossible. Our only options seemed to be safari-themed crib bedding in various shades of hospital green and yellow. Then I came across Elizabeth Ivie’s amazing Etsy store, which she started because – so says her bio – she was frustrated at the lack of trendy gender-neutral nursery options when she was pregnant. The fabric for her custom-made crib bedding, change pad covers and boppy covers are trendy and perfect for little boys or girls.
– Clothes –
U.K.-based kids’ clothing company Tootsa MacGinty doesn’t have separate sections for boys and girls. Their bright and colourful clothes are designed for active kids and most of their products can be worn by girls or boys. Everything is designed with play and fun in mind.
– Etc. –
These companies specialize in a huge array of baby products including decor, bedding, wearables and toys.
Aden + Anais
If you had a baby shower, you probably got something from Aden + Anais. The U.S.-based company founded by an Aussie mom specializes in soft breathable, muslin from swaddles, crib sheets, sleep sacks, burp cloths and bibs, and bath wraps. They also sell great gift packs and – I don’t usually say this – are well worth the price tag. I bought myself the “Liam the Brave” four-pack of swaddles, pictured here, when I was pregnant, and they ended up being the most versatile baby item I bought. I’ve used them as swaddles, summer blankets, bedding, changing pads, breast feeding covers, stroller covers and tummy time blankets. I can’t recommend this brand enough.
The Land of Nod
These guys have it all: furniture, bedding, storage, lighting, decor, and toys. If you have a dream of creating a whimsical, vibrant and gender-neutral nursery or play space, The Land of Nod is your one-stop shop.
So if you, like me, had given up hope and resigned yourself to one of these two realities…
… have faith. You just need to know where to look.
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