We love to categorize, don’t we? There are rules, lines we’re not supposed to cross. Increasingly, we’re seeing that in popular culture. Being a mom, I see it mostly in the toy aisles. There are rows and rows of pink and purple toys, dolls and stuffed animals, dress-up clothes and cooking supplies for girls. There are cars and trucks, action figures, and power tools for boys. Every single store I’ve ever been in that sells toys has them arranged this way. Yes, there are a few gender-neutral toys that get their own aisles. But not as many, and even those tend to be arranged with some gender segregation in mind. For example, craft projects “for girls” are usually separated from the rest. Packaging and marketing also have an impact, often featuring either boys or girls depending on the target audience for a particular item.
The following videos from January and February 2012 illustrate nicely what I have been saying about kids’ toys for a long time:
I really have nothing against the toys that are available for my kids to play with. I don’t object to the fact that my son (despite his love for all things dance) enjoys monster trucks. I’m completely cool with my daughter playing with My Little Pony. But let me make it clear: I would be just fine with it if it were the other way around. In fact, sometimes it is. They often play with each other’s toys, or play together with one set or another. It was my daughter who came up with the idea to make My Little Ponies go flying using a Hot Wheels car launcher.
The real issue is not the toys. It’s not the cookware or the cars. It’s not the pink or the blue. The problem is that we’ve tried to give toys and colors a gender. We’ve marketed toys to boys or girls as though it’s inappropriate for them to play with whatever they want. We’ve color-coded them so that everyone is clear who it should belong to. As a result, even the toys that are supposed to be for everyone, such as Legos, end up being labeled “for boys” or “for girls.”
Instead of trying to fight the toy companies, I have a better idea. Let’s just lay off the stereotyping in our own families. If we stop making a big deal over a boy who wants a cook stove, a Barbie, or anything that comes in pink, or a girl who wants an Incredible Hulk action figure, a remote-control helicopter, or something with swords and skulls on it, we’re already doing better than the companies that produce such things.
I’ve never told either of my kids that there are things they can’t have because boys (or girls) don’t play with those things. Just like I don’t tell my daughter she can’t have wilderness adventures or my son that he can’t dance, I refuse to dictate their playthings. And the best part is, it doesn’t change anything about what anyone else does. If you have a daughter who loves pink and princesses, she is every bit as wonderful as a girl who likes mud pies and baseball (or one who likes mud pies and princesses). If your son prefers football and monsters, he is just as awesome as if he enjoys ballet and dolls (or football and ballet).
What do you say, can we stop making toys (and life) all about gender?