Sunday, November 21, 2010

Sexism Through Toys

Gender stereotypes drive me crazy. Of all the things I am neurotic about as a mom, gender stereotypes are at the top of my list. I think it's because it's so limiting for kids. They are taught at alarmingly young ages that they are only capable of a select few traits, professions and interests. And I actually think boys are put in smaller boxes than girls, but girls don't have it much better.

It's easy to think we must be past this by now. It's 2010 and we are post-feminism, right? We can all be doctors and scientists and mathematicians.

And it's easy to think that these gender preferences in young kids have to do with innate differences in their DNA. That boys will be boys and girls will be girls.

Except despite my insistence that girls are equal to boys, my daughter doesn't believe women can be bosses. She told me I was silly when I said my boss was a girl. She objected to the mere idea that a woman could be in a position of power, not that she had different tendencies than a man.

These messages are EVERYWHERE. And it pains me.

Pigtail Pals recently wrote a blog post, Have Yourself a Very Sexist Holiday, about the messages kids get from toy advertising. It is insane to me that this would be just as pervasive as when I was a child, but boys and girls are told they play with different things, through advertising.

Of course to a certain extent this is likely true. Boys like to be active, girls like to nurture things. I won't argue against the concept (here. I might elsewhere...). But what about a child that goes against the mold? What about a girl who wants to play with trains? Where are the girl trains? Or a boy who wants to love on a doll? Where are the boy dolls?

Definitely food for thought as we start our holiday shopping.

Ryann's toys when she was a toddler
I strive for equality in Ryann's toy selection. She has babies, barbies and dollhouses. But she also has action figures, sports equipment and spaceships. When given a choice between Disney Princess roller skates or Toy Story (boy) roller skates she picked Toy Story without any qualms that they weren't pink. Or purple, as that is her favorite color.

Unfortunately this still takes courage, as a parent, to foster. You have to believe that gender stereotypes are only healthy when they don't limit your child's growth. And you have to not bat an eye when your child choses interests outside of his or her gender. You don't redirect to more "gender appropriate" things. You have to have the courage to let them be who they are.

My little War Machine this Halloween


  1. The other day I walked down the supermarket aisles in the Italian town I'm living in, and all of a sudden I looked right and WHAM! A giant bottle of Pepto-Bismol exploded. Except it wasn't Pepto... It was the "girl's" toy aisle, COMPLETELY AND OVERWHELMINGLY pink. I almost barfed.

    On a related note, I observed at a Montessori elementary school last week, and noticed that during recess the more active children (running, playing tag, arguing) were the GIRLS! The boys were off in little groups, sitting on the floor and trading Pokemon (or whatever is in fashion these days) cards. It really got me to thinking about how marketing is playing a big role in how our children behave and interact... *sigh*

    GREAT costume, by the way!! :)

  2. Oh my goodness! That gets to me too! A woman was complaining to me the other day that he grandson wanted a "girl toy". I asked age and what she defined as a "girl toy". He was 2 and wanted a ladybug stuffed animal. Can you believe it? I grew up with my Mom allowing me to play GI Joe and HeMan. I have a girl and allow her to play with whatever she wants and I feel I would be the same with a boy. Great post! Kerri

  3. The pink gets to me as well... often it seems like the only thing that makes it a "girl toy" is that color, blech.

    Oh my, a ladybug? I really do think boys have it tougher. On the toy and emotion front. It's at least slightly more acceptable for girls to have boy traits, but the other way around and people freak out! Unfortunately, those same loving, caring and emotion skills we tell little boys to get rid of, we later want in our husbands!

  4. Amen! Generally my boy does gravitate to "boy" things. We also don't have cable so he doesn't see toy commercials, which I'm grateful for. One day my son picked out princess fruit snacks and my husband didn't even bat an eye...fell in love with him all over again.

  5. Girls have more flexibility to be boy-ish, but if you look at the messages that a lot of these ads/stores/etc send out, boys are the ones that are
    allowed" to be explorative, creative, etc. I think this is such a HUGE limit to our girls.

    I struggle with this with my son... so often the only choices are things that are obviously BOY or obviously GIRL. If I try to buy the "girly" option for him, I feel like I'm "pushing" it on him... yet somehow buying the "boy" one doesn't feel the same, even though it's still pushing a strong message. It's frustrating. I remember when I went shopping for a toddler backpack and they were all either Dora/pink, or Diego/blue/trucks/etc. I was able to shop online instead and find not-so-gendered options (Skip Hop makes ADORABLE ones) but it's not always easy to find that alternative.

  6. As a German immigrant, I was appalled at the "color coding" of American children and vowed never to dress my now almost-2-year-old girl exclusively in pink or predetermine her toy selection based on gender. Did I catch flak for that? Not really, not even from my very traditionalist in-laws. They just chalked it up to my Germanness. And lo and behold, Little Miss Kickboxer loves her stuffed animals more than her dolls, her favorite book is "Little Blue Truck," her favorite color blue, and her favorite thing to draw is airplanes. So far, so good.

    I'm just scared of 10 years down the road, when she'll be inundated with the Hannah-Montana messaging du jour by her classmates ...

  7. Would you like a picture of Bryce in his purple shoes for your blog?

    Or would you rather the confession that he first asked for lavender and that was my compromise.

    Thanks for the reminder, especially on a cause I also feel is at the top of my parenting pet-peeves.
    When I walk down the "girl" toy aisle, I cringe. We are teaching our daughters that surface level appearance is very important. Followed by domestic tasks. On the other hand, I have to ward off violent toys only found on the "boy" aisle.

  8. I couldn't agree more. I try so hard to urge my son (7) and daughter (5) not to refer to any toys as "boy" or "girl" toys. It may seem like such a little thing to some, but those gender stereotypes that start so early impact both boys and girls for the rest of their lives!
    I just wrote about the exact topic as well,

  9. Hot pink singlets, bead wearing and boy dolls over here...