International Parenting: Gender Roles


There are many hot button issues when it comes to parenting. It doesn’t matter what the issue is but you know you will have one opinion and someone else will have a differing. SEEK has interviewed moms from around the world because we are curious about their cultural and personal views on certain issues.


By Becky Horace

Kids, toys, and gender roles are a hot topic in the media right now with Target deciding to lose the gender biased toy isles. After a mom in Ohio tweeted a picture of her Target store which had a toy isle labeled as “building sets & girl building sets,” the social media parenting world was in an uproar. Target responded and said they would be removing all references to specific genders in their toy and bedding isles. You can read more on that story by clicking here.

Studies have been conducted on children and monkeys to determine if there is a preference of toys between the genders but it seems there is no preference at first. One study discussed in another article (click here to read more) found

“Girls’ preference for pink is learned, not innate; cognitive research suggests that all babies actually prefer blue. (According to Jo Paoletti, author of Pink and Blue: Telling the Boys from the Girls in America, the association of boys with blue and girls with pink dates to the 1940s.) In 2011, Vanessa LoBue and Judy DeLoache undertook a study of a group of boys and girls between the ages of seven months and five years. Each child was tasked with choosing between two similar objects, one of which was pink, the other blue. It was around the age of two that girls began to select the pink toy more often than the blue one; at two and a half, the preference for pink became even more pronounced. Boys developed an aversion to the pink toy along the same timeline.”   

It seems that marketing has more to do with how children pick their toys than a child’s natural preference. In the 1970s there were very little gender biased advertisements but then in the mid-1990s marketers were back to touting masculine toys of boys and feminine for girls. We asked our international moms what their culture and what they personally would do in a situation where their child is playing with a toy “not typical” for their gender.



  • Cultural: “Boys playing with girls toys and dressing up and wearing makeup like their mommy is ok in my bangladeshculture until a certain age; let’s say up to 3 or
    4 years. After that certain norms are taught and kids are expected not to mix and cross gender roles.”
  • Personal: “I will not stereotype but I will also not encourage dressing up as mommy or wearing makeup after a certain age limit. Playing with girls toys would be ok but not playing entirely with girls toys.”


  • Cultural: “In my home country, we say cars are for boys and dolls are for girls but I don’t think that people worry too much if francethings are not like that – at least for young ages.”
  • Personal: “So far I am not worried with that; my son loves pink and wants to be a princess! I think it is linked to what is surrounding them and when you read Cinderella or any other stories of this kind, the princess is the hero! At the same time, he is also into Spiderman and trains. It’s just a mix of everything. I also think this is due to the age, and will probably change later.”

United Kingdom

  • Cultural: “Gender roles are still fairly fixed with pink for girls and blue for boys. UK shops still choose to stock uk10 rows of clothes for girls to every three for boys. Although we have equality laws in the UK and education has moved away from adding ‘man’ to jobs such as police or fire, there is still a
    tendency for roles to be feminine or masculine and this is definitely played out in the pay gap between genders which is still prevalent even after the law changed in 1976!”
  • Personal: “Allow them to be. Where’s the harm in it? I suspect that this is more the trend of European parenting. Everything here in Asia is so pink or blue. My mum pretty much allowed our imaginations to run wild, until we got to our teens then her own insecurities kicked in.”


  • Cultural: “No problem at all, although I think there is a certain difference between the educated and non-educated. With modern, young, academic parents being very gender-aware and easy-going and working class less but that might just be my prejudices. Most nurseries though, would easily let the swedenboys wear dresses and play with dolls and so on. We have gender aware nurseries who deliberately challenge the gender roles. In Sweden, we have
    implemented a gender-neutral word: hen (him/her/hen) that could be he or she. It’s generally not a big deal even if I think that most parents would try to get their sons to not wear a dress if they are attending a more public event. There is always a strong movement against any clothes chain or toy-shop whenever they tend to be too pink or blue in their clothes range or toys advertisements.”
  • Personal: “Mixed. My son loves to dress up in gowns and call himself a girl (or at least he used to when he was three). I loved that. For a while he was almost always dressed in a gown when I picked him up from nursery. His favorite color was pink and I had no problem letting him wear pink crocs. However, when he wanted to wear a very girlie top I did (much to my own surprise) distract him from it so I didn’t have to buy it, tell him no, or having to explain why. So clearly I’m quite open-minded, but not publicly so… (Oh, so very Swedish…).”


  • Cultural: “I think various generations/backgrounds in my culture take two stances – one is that boys should play with boy toys USand the same for girls, and other is that we can blur gender roles.”
  • Personal: “Personally, we are OK with whatever she wants to play with. At the moment, our daughter is 200% girl.  She does play with some cars and planes, but that is the extent of “boy” toys she has asked to play with.”


  • Cultural: “It’s very unlikely that a Venezuelan parent would let a child play with a toy venthat is not gender appropriate. We are a very sexist society where girls should play with dolls and boys should play with trains, even bikes should be “right color.”
  • Personal: “I don’t really care if my girl plays with a train set, cars or super heroes, but she is very girly and loves tiaras, tutus and purple glitter. She has a lot of boy cousins and boyfriends so I don’t stop her from playing with dinosaurs or cars.”


Big thanks to the moms who were so much help in completing this article series! It was great to see everyone’s different views on such hot topics.

photo by The_Parasite CC BY NC ND 2.0

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

%d bloggers like this: