If you are weary to get your children that popular toy they really want, but which perpetuates outdated archetypes and gender roles, you are right. Gender- specific toys have been around for centuries- since the middle ages- when girls used to play with rag dolls and tea sets while boys could choose from a wide variety of toys which included balls, stick horses, boats or toy weapons such as fake swords and lances. Ever since, princesses became role-models for girls, while boys aimed at becoming brave, competitive and almost invincible characters.
Nowadays, parents are gaining greater awareness of the negative effects that gender-specific toys might have on their children. Many girls receive dolls with unrealistic bodily proportions, plastic kitchen sets, toy nail polish, makeup sets and doll pushchairs. There is a vicious message embedded in this type of play: women should aspire to look pretty, become housewives and mothers in order to fulfill societal roles that dictate exactly what a woman should be. Teenagers become insecure of their body image, as they do not have the “Barbie” bodies or the digitally retouched looks of their favorite teen pop star.
Meanwhile, boys are encouraged to play with blocks, vehicles and action figures, solve puzzles, and experiment with chemistry kits. Most “masculine” toys foster both physical force and concrete skills such as building, calculating, solving puzzles, strategizing- they boost spatial skills. In contrast, toys for girls exercise human empathy, and heighten their role as caretakers.
Neither empathy nor spatial skills should be gendered! Children need opportunities to develop many different intelligences: special, kinesthetic, social, naturalistic, among others.
The good news is that more families are becoming aware of the importance of play in developing intellectual skills. There are many ways of engaging little ones in healthy play: puppet shows, riding bicycles, swings, toy castles, jigsaw puzzles, marbles, rattles or games such as hide and seek.
Our children’s sense of freedom is vital for the development of autonomy, self-determination and higher-order thinking skills. Although marketing may make toys seem innocent, it is important to keep in mind that play is essential for the development of intelligence, skills and attitudes.
Today, I have gathered up a list of ideas in order to foster gender-equal childhoods:
1) Promote inclusion within the family- use every opportunity to exercise thinking skills, scientific reasoning. Calculate, build, engage in all sorts of sports- girls can excel at martial arts if they wish, and boys should not feel constrained to adhere to specific roles.
2) Keep close communication with your sons and daughters. Communication allows children to develop their own criteria before further exposure to gender-specific games and toys. Identify and reject gender biases whenever possible and avoid sexist roles during play.
3) Set an example to children by not letting yourself be constrained by these outdated gender roles. Empowered parents raise happier, resilient children.
A well-meaning present is a responsible present, one which considers the effects on children in the long run. This isn’t about eliminating illusion and magic in the imaginations of children’s minds- it’s about promoting a wide variety of intelligences, skills and attitudes that will have a positive effect in the academic and professional decisions they make in the long run. It’s about letting our children know that engineering, parenting, astronautics or ballet are all achievable possibilities. Building their own future is up to them.
Angélica Fuentes, Founder Equal Invest
Angélica Fuentes is a Latin American businesswoman and impact investor, who has been recognized by Forbes Magazine as one of Mexico’s most influential women.
Ms. Fuentes was appointed CEO of Grupo Imperial in 1992 and quickly positioned the company as a top player in Northern Mexico’s energy sector. Under her leadership, Grupo Imperial’s annual growth rate increased from 5% in 1992 to 9.5% in 2005. Ms. Fuentes served as President of the Business Energy Network of the Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation Agreement (APEC) from 2002 to 2004, and as President of the Mexican Natural Gas Association from 1996 to 2000. From 2007 to 2015, she served as CEO of Grupo Omnilife-Angelissima-Chivas. Under her leadership, the company became one of the top 100 corporations in Mexico.
Throughout her career, Ms. Fuentes has dedicated significant time and resources to NGOs, international organizations and professional groups that support the cause of women. She participated in the World Economic Forum’s Gender Parity Programme, and led the Mexican Gender Parity Taskforce. She currently serves on Secretary Clinton’s International Council on Women’s Business Leadership; is member of the Private Sector Leadership Advisory Council of UN Women; is a Global Advocate for the Girl Up Campaign, a United Nations Foundation program; co-chairs the PVBLIC LATAM regional platform; is member of the Latin American Program Advisory Board of the Woodrow Wilson International Center; and is member of the Global Dignity’s International Council of Advisors.
Her work in this field has been recognized by numerous honors and awards. In 2015, UN Women gave her the Women’s Empowerment Principles CEO Leadership Award; she was the first female CEO to receive this award for championing gender equality in the private sector. In 2016, PVBLIC Foundation, Ismael Cala Foundation, and the United Nations gave her the award for Latin Woman Empowerment. In 2017, she received the Corporate Social Responsibility Award from The Maestro Cares Foundation.
Gender equality, women empowerment and the eradication of poverty have always been a priority in all her endeavors. In 2014, she established the Angelica Fuentes Foundation. In 2016, she founded A Complete and The Imperative Fund. In 2017, she founded Equal Invest, The Beauty Station and A Complete Journey.