Tuesday Repost: Engendered toys: Is being domesticated really such a bad thing?

I keep going back to these gender posts but the whole topic of the role of toys in developing an understanding of gender fascinates me. Probably the most significant thing about it is that looking at this issue forces us to realise that we really can’t just say “it’s just a toy”. Toys can come with loaded concepts attached and can play a massive role in shaping who we become as adults.

Gender toys, domestic toys

I wrote about the topic of gender and toys a while ago and over the past few weeks I’ve noticed a considerable amount of readers seem to be dropping in from various places to look at that old post. I considered simply reposting it but the topic warrants more attention as there is so much more to be said than I could fit into my other post so here we are.

questions of genderI teach an adult learning course on philosophy and in our aesthetics class we somehow came on to the topic of the accoutrements which we use to define our identity. This moved pretty cleanly onto the topic of gender identity and the subtle identifiers we employ to recognise members of our gender. It was so difficult to describe the specifics of ‘manliness’ or ‘womanliness’ that we came to the conclusion that there probably aren’t any specifics to describe, and if that’s the case then it’s likely to be something highly engrained that we learn through seeing and doing.

It’s for this reason that I think that the gender identity that we are exposed to as children (from, amongst other things, childhood play) plays a, if not the central role in our development of both our personal identity and our understanding of gender, and this is where things get tricky. I have two sons and I’m patently aware that they are growing up in a world where gender identity is in flux, I want them to be responsive to the world they are growing up in but at the same time I don’t want them to develop personalities which are similarly in flux. I want them to be sure of who they are.

Homer's 'BBQ'

Homer’s ‘BBQ’

The women’s rights movement has been reworking the definition of what it is to be a woman since before I was born. The strange flip side to this is that there has been no parallel conscious redefinition of masculinity. This isn’t to say that masculinity hasn’t been redefined, as new roles, responsibilities and attitudes are developed through the media’s attempts to keep up with the changes in female identity, and this is where children’s play struggles. Whilst it’s funny to watch traditional archetypes be eroded (just look at Homer, ‘head’ of the Simpson’s household) it feels slightly uncomfortable for some parents to break with tradition when raising their sons.

cleaning set for kids

A simple brush and shovel set,  your wee ones will love helping out around the house (I know my two do)

A girl with a tool set is empowered but a boy with a buggy or a doll doesn’t have a similarly positive description to fall back on. It seems that by opening the working world up in the toys girls get to play with we have somehow belittled the importance of the domestic world. As a part-time house-husband I feel slightly offended that my contribution to the household is seen in a negative light, this belittlement is especially clear where a woman chooses a similar position in life. House-wives or ‘Stay at home mums’ can be seen by some as anti-feminist. I’m not getting into a debate about that here but I do want to point out that there is no ‘just’ about keeping a house in order. The resultant attitude towards domestic toys follows quite easily and has been developing in some quarters for years, one that sees these toys as a limiting factor; as some kind of shackle with which we bind our daughters, as ‘anti-feminist’. The reality is that, unless your child manages to leave home and instantly make enough money to hire a cleaner and a cook, they will have to do some domestic tasks for at least some portion of their lives. Why not expose them to this at an age when domestic tasks seem glamorous? Regardless of whether they are male or female there’s nothing wrong with teaching your child to be house-proud.

Because of the negative connotations associated with women as house-wives somehow domestic toys have found themselves somewhat villainised. Personally I don’t see why we can’t help our children to celebrate the domestic. Surely if a child learns to enjoy housework there’s at least a chance that you might find yourself with a teenager who may occasionally help out around the house, or better still an adult who can take care of themselves. Isn’t that a pretty important skill to foster in a child from a young age?

As always thanks for reading and I welcome any opinions that you want to share, Cheers, John

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A bit of shameless self promotion

An investigation into the good life and how e might achieve it

Apologies for the long absence, I’ve recently been using up all my spare time finishing writing up a book. As some of my readers may know my background is in both toys and in Philosophy, this blog has always been and will continue to be about the toy side of my knowledge base. However, I can’t help spilling into a bit of philosophical discussion every now and then; typically when I look at society’s values or things like the self-image of children. In this post I’m jumping all the way over to the philosophy side.

First off, this book isn’t a mammoth read, I tried to keep things as neat and concise as I could. It could be an interesting alternative to an introduction to philosophy book as it looks at both ancient and very modern positions in philosophy, providing people with a breadth of philosophical history. It doesn’t address every important philosophical question ever posed, but it does cover one or two of the ‘big questions’ as it takes the reader through it’s main topic. The book is about what it is to have a good life, and what kind of activities we might have to participate in in order to achieve this. When I started writing this book I wanted to make sure that the vast array of human capacities and capabilities are at least acknowledged, if not addressed head on. Because of this topics including the nature of mental disability and how it impacts on notions of merit and blame grew to become a steady thread throughout the book.

I like to think that it addresses these issues in the lightest possible manner whilst taking them seriously but I’ll leave it up to readers to decide. It’s available (in English only) in the UK, the USA, Germany, France, Spain, Italy, Japan, India, Canada and Brazil. If you choose to get yourself a copy (or even just read a sample) I hope you enjoy it and I hope you take the time to tell me what you think.

Getting back to the topic of toys (ish), I’m considering writing a book for next summer about the way philosophers talk about children (or in many cases, don’t talk about them at all) and also about the kinds of views of the world that children have (what we could probably call the philosophy of children). For the secondary topic of this new book I’d welcome any anecdotes about things kids say about the world and what they think about it, so please pop your stories here in the comments section (you can remain anonymous in the book, or get credit for the story, it’s up to you).

As always, thanks for reading and I promise to get some more toy talk back on here as soon as I can, Cheers, John