The effect of toys and playtime may not be as benign as some parents and educators think. Although great strides have been made in many social areas, boys are still pushed toward higher levels of unhealthy competition and stoicism during playtime while many girls are reinforced in their unrealistic beliefs that they will always be taken care of or that employment outside the home is optional. The segregation under those neon lights is a fairly good predictor for what is to come, both in terms of earning power and career choice. The power and labor inequities in homes and work places — and the damaging messages sent to boys about their roles in society — are often shaped and defined in the types of toys that are mindlessly thrown in the shopping cart.
Over the last few years I've taken notice of commentaries about the feminization of the American culture. Now I'm highlighting this one. The author, Sudie Hofmann, says quite a number of things in this article that express concern that boys harm themselves by playing with these toys:
- Are boys encouraged to demonstrate power and control during playtime by simulating violence and war?
- When young boys engage in dress up, pile on the necklaces, enjoy painting their nails or select other girl toys, cultural norms or homophobia often correct the behavior immediately. In fact, in Fisher Price Playlab studies where staff members observed children behind one-way glass, they found that boys will play with "girl" toys if they think they are in a safe environment.
- ...[Y]oung boys relish the chance to get their nails painted and have their hair styled when girls are doing it as a special activity. As one student told my class recently, "I think boys just like the closeness of being with a staff member, being touched while we paint their nails, and talking with us." Perhaps it is the tactile, calming aspect of this activity that draws boys and girls to it. However, sex roles are reinforced very early in boys' lives, and toys play a part in that socialization.
- Beyond the obvious problems of violence and aggression that many of the toys engender, even the science-based toys are solitary and don't present opportunities for verbal or social development. Packaging hints at being the best or creating and building superior models or designs. There is little evidence that toys help boys in social and emotional development or in Katz's words, help boys to be "better men" some day.
- One of the students had been in the military and said he felt angry about the socialization he had absorbed from toys, like assumptions that men make war, war is exciting, and new weapons are fun to use.
I cannot help but think, yet again, that the sociology courses taught in colleges are like focusing on the wallpaper pattern rather than on the way the house is built. What an utter waste of energy, time, and brain power.