There's a growing movement to make girls' toys less girly. Petitions have been signed and complaints lodged — sometimes even by those as young as 5 — about why girls deserve more than princesses and pink. And toy companies are beginning to listen, offering educational or scientific toys marketed to girls. The latest: a new LEGO collection of female scientist figures.
That's great news! But here's the thing: Boys deserve more variety too.
Where are the letter writers and pre-school pundits pushing for boys to have LEGO dollhouses or bakeries marketed to them? Surely all of their needs aren't being met on the boy aisle.
The division between boy and girl toys can be roughly summarized as such: Boy toys are all about ambition, whether it is figuring something out, learning a marketable skill, or winning a game. Girl toys are all about beauty and nurturing, like playing dress up, having a tea party, or playing house. These are all legitimate forms of expression for all children — yes, even dress-up.
But getting boys to play like girls would be good for boys. It would provide them with a wider range of ways to contribute to the world. They would see the domestic sphere as something satisfying, a place in which they could make a difference. Considering the realities of the new economy (which hurts men more than women) and domestic life (women are increasingly the breadwinners), giving males a sense of purpose outside the professional or competitive realm is a no-brainer.
There's also the fact that a lot of "girl" games encourage imaginary play and narrative-building, which are important for building literacy skills. A new report by the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD) found that in every one of the 43 countries surveyed, girls are better than boys at reading. The study reports that 56 percent of boys read only to get information, compared with 33 percent of girls. Getting boys to engage in more play that privileges storytelling will help them see reading as a path to pleasure and personal insight, not just a method of information-gathering.
And then there is the fact that getting boys to play like girls would be good for girls too. Particularly when they grow up.
Sheryl Sandberg's latest campaign #LeanInTogether is all about encouraging men to take on more responsibilities as fathers and homemakers so women can devote more of their energy to their professional ambitions. The ramifications extend to children, too: A study from a few years ago found that dads who share household chores are more likely to raise confident and ambitious daughters. It discovered that, overall, dad's attitude towards gender equality actually had a stronger influence than mom's in inspiring their daughters to go for what they want. Why not start setting up these patterns early?
So perhaps the next campaign should be for a LEGO town dad and baby — or, even better, a playhouse option where dad is in an apron, cooking food for his family. (This would surely be progress from current playhouses where, in the pictorial descriptions on the box, the dad is shown on a different floor than the rest of his family.) By playing with these LEGO sets, boys would not only get used to seeing men playing a larger role in domestic life, but come to think of it as fun too.