As a mom of biracial kids, my mission is to teach them about their identity. So when it comes to buying toys, I'm always on the hunt for toys that resemble them, in addition to buying dolls of other races. But to be honest, I haven't really thought about the issue of gender-specific toys. Until now.
When the creative director of Moschino, Jeremy Scott, shared on his Instagram account that the new Moschino Barbie was sold out within an hour of its launch, it was obvious that the now iconic Mattel toy has become a huge hit.
In fact, the $150 doll, which is part of an eight-piece collection, is resonating in more ways than one. The Moschino Barbie commercial is now breaking boundaries by featuring a boy in it.
Sporting a Jeremy Scott-inspired outfit, the child says with attitude, "Moschino Barbie is so fierce!" Then Barbie's cell phone goes off and he adds, "It's for you, Moschino Barbie," followed by a wink.
This commercial couldn't come at better time. With the holiday season upon us and parents thinking about what to buy for their little ones, it really makes you wonder how gender-specific toys impact kids.
The National Association for the Education of Young Children works to promote high-quality early learning for all young children, from birth through age 8, by connecting early childhood practice, policy and research. The organization enlisted the help of childhood experts like Judith Elaine Blakemore to tackle this subject matter.
Blakemore is professor of psychology and associate dean of Arts and Sciences for Faculty Development at Indiana University-Purdue University and researches the development of gender roles. She classified over 100 toys and how each impacted boys and girls. She later found that boys associated with toys related with aggression and fighting, whereas girls identified more with appearance as seen with Barbies, ballerinas and makeup.
It was the adults who drew constant attention to the fact that he was a boy playing with dolls.
Blakemore concluded that in order to to develop children's physical, cognitive, academic, musical and artistic skills, parents should stick with non-gender-specific toys.
However, child-play researcher and psychologist Peter Gray has a different take on the gender-neutral toy debate when it comes to children's play and overall development, arguing children shouldn't be forced to play in any certain way.
He says, "When we try to direct their play by saying something like, 'You can't play with guns,' or whatever, then the child isn't going into it with same enthusiasm and they're not learning to take control of their own lives."
Gray also thinks it's unlikely toys can change gender inequality. To him, what we give kids to play with doesn't shape their future—instead the interests and toys are a reflection of the culture our kids are born into.
Still, I can't help but think that ads like the Moschino Barbie one and the push for gender-neutral toys takes us one step closer to gender equality. Toys are a reflection of our culture, yes, but there's something to be said about breaking that boundary in whatever ways we can in order to change the culture that toys reflect.
It's actually quite sad that we need to draw attention to something that should actually be a given. I thought about my male cousin and me playing with dolls as children. Back then, I really didn't think anything of it. However, it was the adults who drew constant attention to the fact that he was a boy playing with dolls.
I've seen my son and daughter play with dolls, trucks, cars and blocks. I'll continue to foster that freedom and allow them to choose. Because it's time we get rid of toy stereotypes for good.