I always assumed that toys had changed since the parenting guide Modern Mothercraft was published in 1945. They've certainly got more buttons, lights, and the ability to make more noise. They're much cheaper comparatively due to parallel importing, and often more poorly made. After looking at the below chart from Mothercraft, though, I was surprised to find most of my son's favourite toys making an appearance. Toys may be shinier now, but it seems that my son and the Baby Boomers enjoyed banging, building, biking, and vrooming just as much as each other.
Something else hasn't changed since 1945: the gender segregation of toys. The 1945 publication isn't very subtle about boys' toys and girls' toys. For example, it says: "We watch two year-old Tommy busily filling his little cart or bucket with gravel, or hammering two blocks together, and three-year old Jane gravely bathing her doll, and feel we have a preview of their future adult life." Nice.
It's a shame that we haven't come very far since 1945. Toys today are clearly divided into boys' and girls' sections, with children getting told by society and marketers very early on that they are only supposed to play with certain things depending on their gender. While campaigns such as Let Toys Be Toys have made some progress in raising awareness and changing how sections of toys stores are signposted, we still have a long way to go.
Maybe in some ways things were even better in 1945. At least then toys like blocks, tricycles and art supplies weren't separated by gender: blocks were blocks, not blocks for girls and blocks for boys. There was no way my Depression-era grandparents would have spent money on something only marketed for children of one gender, as these toys were expected to last for a number of kids, irrespective of whether they were boys or girls. What we have today seems to be a bit of a catch-22: because toys are comparatively cheaper, they are aggressively marketed in ways to make us buy more.
Now I'm not saying that girls and boys don't have different play preferences, because many do. My son is obsessed with diggers and bulldozers, interests which have been completely driven by him. What I object to is dividing toys by gender that really don't need it: bikes, blocks, toy phones, and scissors; toys that function exactly the same, regardless of whether they are pink or blue. Or, sending the message to our children that only boys play with cars, and only girls play with dolls. My son's favourite toy is a doll, and it makes me sad to think that one day he might learn that boys aren't supposed to play with them.
After all, if this continues, what are we really telling our children about what their future adult life ought to be like? That all of their hobbies and interests they may yet develop are all somehow predetermined and limited by whether or not they have a "Y" chromosome? Almost 70 years after Mothercraft's initial publication, when it comes to gender and toys, maybe it is finally time to move on.