But it’s at the local toy shop that my feelings really come to a head. The first time I shopped there I readily accepted the offer to have the present I’d just bought for my nephew gift-wrapped, not realising the agonies the shop assistant’s next question would put me in.
“Is it for a boy or a girl?”
I realised that if I admitted that the gift was for a boy, out would come the ubiquitous cars, space rockets, tools or sports paraphernalia – reinforcing those as “for boys”.
I hesitated so long before answering that, by the time I finally did, two other assistants were also waiting curiously for my response. “I’m not going to tell you,” I said, a small rebellion that turned my face bright red.
I know it’s just wrapping paper. But it’s also a manifestation of something pervasive and powerful. When I discovered research showing that preschoolers are beginning to grasp not just the concrete correlates of gender, but also the metaphorical cues – that what is soft or curved is female, and what is hard or angular is male – I know that children are getting the message conveyed to them (however inadvertently) from the way their clothes and bedding, toys and crockery, greeting cards, and, yes, even wrapping paper, comes gender-labelled from birth. And when those gender labels lead five-year-old children to the conclusion that a black, spiky My Little Pony has to be for boys, while a lavender satin gun and holster set must be for girls, it becomes clear that these gender cues pack a psychological punch.
From Cordelia Fine’s “Let’s end the great gender lie” in The Guardian.