Oh, Baby: Why Choose Between Pink and Blue?

Anyone who has been close to a couple preparing to have a child is aware of the gender-based excitement surrounding the child’s birth. Their house may have a specific room already decorated with walls of pink paint, floral bedspreads, and Barbies, or perhaps a room of blue with trains plastered across the wallpaper and building blocks stacked in a corner.

Whatever the case may be, these babies are brought home and often have an already gendered life set up for them. Their toys, clothes, and even the way people speak to them all comes down to that moment when the doctor shouts, “It’s a girl/boy!”

While children may be granted more freedom to self-identify in terms of gender and their preferences as they grow, there is crucial stage of brain development that occurs between birth and five years old; the gendering of toys may have a negative impact on both boys and girls during that developmental period. According to Harvard University’s Center on the Developing Child, a child’s brain development occurs rapidly and is highly malleable during that period leading up to five years old.

Their brain’s ability to adapt to new experiences and learn from their environment is vast, meaning all that’s placed in front of them is likely to have a long-term effect on how their brain functions. So while boys are encouraged to play with toys like building blocks, Legos, and other design-specific games that will greatly impact their mathematical abilities, girls are being given dolls, houses, and domestically-focused toys that are more likely to increase their empathetic and emotional sensitivities.

The fact that gender neutral toys open up possibilities for children and adults alike is no longer debatable. Providing children with stereotypical gender identities from birth can be restrictive and harmful to overall brain development. Shouldn’t we encourage kids to wear the colors they find most pleasing to their eye? Shouldn’t we encourage boys to develop more emotional empathy and give girls the opportunity to build houses out of blocks, rather than limiting them to in-house chores?

The de-gendering of toy sections and clothing in stores is becoming a viable route for changing the way our society sees young boys and girls. Target vowed to ditch their gendered signage in their toy sections in the name of gender neutrality. This means, for instance, that instead of having a blindingly pink (and separate) section for “Girls’ Building Sets,” all of the building sets will be stocked together. The Disney Store, Amazon, and Mattel have also made progressive changes to their products in order to welcome all genders to their brand in a non-stereotypical, accepting fashion.