Last weekend I went to buy some toys. A friend’s son was five and I wanted to give him a birthday present he would have liked.
I walked into one of the biggest toy stores in town. Big illuminated signs everywhere, vendors following us, trying to put groceries and deals in our hands, flashing lights and beeps, remote control toys flying towards you – it was less like a magical place full of people. wonder and fun, and more like an emergency room after a disaster.
I found a young lady in a store uniform and asked if I could be directed to the section where I could find toys for a five year old. Something fun, something educational, maybe?
It was all downhill from there. I realized that most of these toys were doing the exact opposite of what teachers, educators, and parents all over the world are trying to do: raise caring human beings. Let me introduce you to some of what I saw.
A weapons section: How did we standardize this? How, when mass shootings kill hundreds of innocent people, when we talk to our children every day about the values of dignity and peace, can we accept that toy guns are thrown into the hands of young boys? These weapons are labeled as “blasters” and “hand cannons”. I even found a board game called Cash and Guns.
When we give kids blocks, we inspire them to be builders. When we give children paint, we inspire them to make art and to express themselves creatively. Logically, what is it like to put an overly realistic looking toy gun in the hands of a five year old?
Sections on Everything Gender Based: I went to the science section. Maybe I could find some toys that would help this wonderful, kind and curious young boy explore states of matter or experiment with simple physics. What I found instead was this – hot pink boxes marked as appropriate for six-year-old girls, to help them make their own lip gloss, while the blue and green boxes had faces of boys on it, doing science experiments. I wonder why graduate engineering programs have such low gender ratios? Maybe most girls are too busy keeping their lips shiny to care about the next engineering wonder.
Plastic: This whole toy store was a bunch of plastic. Plastic in plastic boxes, wrapped in more plastic then covered with cling film. All while teachers at the school try to inspire students with stories of Greta Thunberg and climate activism.
A small shelf in the corner held wooden toys, but they were very expensive and looked a lot less exciting – maybe because they didn’t have the same marketing budgets for in-store branding as they did. LOL dolls.
4.The dolls: If Barbie were a real woman, she would be 5 feet 9 inches tall, weigh 54 kilograms, and have a 38-18-34. No wonder we find teenage girls and women standing in front of the mirror, sucking their bellies and pinching the flesh around their waists. This is what we have been taught. It’s bad enough that she has these dimensions, but add to that fair skin, blonde hair, blue eyes. The toy store salesperson told me that the best selling doll expansion kits are kitchen sets, hair styling accessories, and glamor kits.
While brands invest in scientist Barbie and mathematician Barbie – let’s get one thing clear – what sells on the floor are hair bands and pans.
What angers me the most about this experience is that as teachers, parents, adults, we are trying to build a brave and kind next generation, with all that we have. And the million dollar toy giants are doing the exact opposite. Except that they have the power of millions of dirhams of marketing behind them. And plastic, and things that ring and flash and glow.
Surely there must be a toy store to go to that is warm and welcoming, where the toys are environmentally friendly and share at least some of our values? Where can a boy buy a cooking set, and a girl can buy a non-pink-non-blue-maybe-yellow microscope? Is there?