Two-gender and two-sex systems are problematic, as they create oppositional binaries which promote exclusion. The classification of sex and gender into two distinct, diametrically opposed forms of masculinity/male and femininity/female creates a dimorphic sex system (Frye, 1983). The problematisation of contemporary gender and sex binaries is imperative, as such strict classification perpetuates expectations and norms for individuals and processes of everyday life; being built into major social organisation and systemising social stratification. Such ideology is embedded into the fabric of society, seen potently through and enforced by gendered marketing of toys, where certain colours and types of toys are produced and advertised for one gender or sex exclusively (Auster & Mansbach, 2012). This essay will thus examine and problematise the two-sex and gender system through the lens of gendered toys, and subsequently, proposition a spectrum to suggest an altered way of perceiving sex, gender and their relationship.
The effect of gendered toys has been a focal point of contemporary research surrounding gender development (Martin & Ruble, 2010; Fine & Rush, 2018). Lorber (1993) affirms that gender is “so pervasive…we assume it is bred into our genes”, proposing that some are oblivious to the way gender is socially constructed, rather than biologically determined (Lorber, 2012). An individual's sex refers to biology and anatomy; one's reproductive system and secondary sex characteristics. An individuals' gender may refer to their social roles based on their sex, and their personal identification of their gender based on an internal awareness. The contemporary paradigm of two-sex and two-gender systems necessitates challenging. An individuals' assigned sex and gender may not align, for example, in cases of a person being transgender, or when an individual may present a biological sex characteristic that complicates sex assignment, referred to as intersex. The gendered marketing and nature of children's toys entrenches binarized ideologies into our societal framework. This is problematic as gender and sex binaries construct an unwavering classification which is key in exclusion. The two-sex and two-gender systems allow those who identify with normative ideas of masculinity/male and femininity/female to ‘fit in', whilst those who do not identify within these categories are minoritised.
Toys play an important role in the socialisation of children, specifically, because playing involves interaction with the self, friends and family (Auster & Mansbach, 2012). Research has shown that the interests, ambitions, skills and even careers of children are shaped by the media they consume and the toys with which they play (Oksman, 2016). Bandura (1986) mentions the effect of media on socialisation, which is utilised heavily in the marketing and advertising of toys (Bandura, 1986). A study conducted by Auster & Mansbach (2012) reveals how the Disney Store has tabs for “boys” and “girls” exclusively, rather than gender-neutral toys. The study revealed that gendered marketing of toys may have a “tremendous” impact on how children experience gender (Auster & Mansbach, 2012). This is supported by Sweet (2016) who affirms that toys that are gendered decrease the attributional ranges that children can explore through toys and playtime; preventing children from increasing their full range of interests and talents (Sweet, 2016). The de-gendering of toys would allow children to “be free to explore their diverse interests beyond the narrow confines of gender binaries” (Lenning, 2009). Auster & Mansbach's 2012 study reveals the differing values and roles that are portrayed to children, with girls' toys typically being to do with glamour, beauty, cooking and baby care, where boys are focused on action and adventure-oriented activities. This seemingly essential and intrinsic roles of girls and boys that are portrayed and facilitated through gendered toys poses a harmful binary to those who are non-normative or non-binary, where it is assumed that everyone does or should fit into these two strict, diametrically opposed categories, also shaping social interactions and choices made later in life. This underpins gender stereotypes that bolster archaic notions of masculinity and femininity which have harmful consequences for normative outliers.
Thinking about sex, gender and the relationship between them can be challenging. Bornstein's notion of a gender spectrum/continuum proposes a different way of thinking. Bornstein proposes that rather than demarcating people into two distinct categories, that we should consider gender as a spectrum, where emphasis is not on classification. This would be a far more constructive way of viewing gender as not everyone fits in a two-sex or two-gender system. Building on this notion, West & Zimmermann (1987) propose that an individual's genitalia at birth or chromosomal typing before both will not necessarily match, and that the prominence of the sex binary is harmful as not everyone fits into these categories due to genital, hormonal or chromosomal makeup. Sterling (1993) addresses this issue by claiming there are up to five sexes, but that there could even be more, based on the vast range of bodies that present in nature.
This essay has sought to examine and problematise the dominant two-sex and two-gender systems that are prevalent in contemporary society. By utilising children's toys to represent the engrained
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