On letting children choose their toys

Girl With Lego

Do boys and girls have innate toy preferences, or are we typecasting them into gendered ghettos of dolls and pink versus guns and football? The debates rage on...

Shops are reproached for dividing their toy departments into boys' things (engines) and girls' things (dolls) on the grounds that typecasting little girls as lovers of pink discriminates against them, and discourages them from thinking that they, too, might understand engines one day.

But it could be argued – is argued by shops – that girls like different things anyway so they are just giving them what they want. Certainly adopting too much maleness in the interests of equality isn't always sensible. During my ill-fated time at Roedean we were offered Harrow's school song, which spoke warmly of games and "the tramp of 22 men" – hardly what the girls wanted to emulate.

It is often said that it's only grown-up expectations that make little girls want different things, but I know that whereas my sons refused to have figures in their Lego constructions – they apparently muck up the scale – the granddaughters immediately wanted people with the buildings; and when they found that their inherited dolls' house had a baby chair but no baby, they wanted my husband to make one, which he did, out of plaster and cloth (saying as he did that of the two ways he knew of making a baby he preferred the other).

It may be discrimination to make girls stick to pink, but surely it's just as absurd to assume that football and engines are better, just because that's what the boys like. Let them all choose.

What do you think? Have your say below

Powered by Guardian.co.ukThis article was written by Katharine Whitehorn, for The Observer on Monday 26th May 2014 10.59 Europe/London

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