Boy Toys, Girl Toys, And Other Cuckoopants Gender Assumptions

Boys love trucks.

It’s true. My son? If “toddler” was a marrying age, he’d probably marry a truck. I don’t know what kind of truck, exactly — he can be a little fickle on that front, but if I had to put money down, I’d say he’d wanna marry a tractor trailer. Maybe, maybe, a tow truck. Though he does have a new crane he’s pretty enamored with? Shit, I dunno. We’ve started him on Transformers: Rescue Bots, and they’re like a gateway drug to other toys — they’re trucks, you see, that turn into people. This is how we get him to Batman, I figure. Or Star Wars. Whatever.

Point is: boys love trucks.

And girls also love trucks, too.

Any time my son is near to a girl around his age, the girl wants to play with his trucks. And why wouldn’t she? Trucks are kinda bad-ass. Big wheels and they make noise and they do shit and you can push them and crash them into other trucks and trucks are a fucking blast, shut up.

Girls love dolls.

Boys also love dolls.

My son sees a doll, he wants to play with that shit. And not just in a traditionally boy way — it’s not like he’s picking up the doll and getting into an MMA fight with it. He talks to dolls and plays with them almost as if they’re other children. If it’s a baby doll, he wants to take care of it.

Girls love kitchen stuff.

My son — drum roll please — also plays with kitchen stuff. He has a little kitchen area at his Mom-Mom’s house where he cooks up fake food and serves it. Just yesterday he made me some kind of invisible plate of mac-and-cheese which, tantalizingly, was too hot to eat for a long while until B-Dub cooled it down (by spluttering on it). Then for some reason he ate his like a dog? I dunno. Toddlers are basically tiny drunken chimpanzee robots trying to figure out how to be people.

See, that’s a joke, but it’s also got a deeply-embedded nail of truth in it:

Kids are trying to figure out how to be people.

Because they don’t know. All they know is that they’re barfed up into this world and they start out as these little pink-cheeked cocktails of cognitive development and physical swelling — their lurch forward from squalling poop-flavored soft-serve machine to actual human being with actual human emotions and opinions is not a slow one. In this, the accelerator is stomped to the floor.

One of things we think we know about people is gender. Boys do boy stuff! Girls do girl stuff! Ha ha ha it’s just true, people say, it’s just biology, they’ll claim, and even early on, kids are given acute signals regarding gender: flashing lights, warbling sirens, waving flags indicating societal norms.

BOYS LIKE BLUE.

GIRLS LIKE PINK.

IF I DON’T KNOW WHAT FIDDLY BITS THE CHILD HAS, GODDAMNIT, I DUNNO, DRESS THEM IN SOMETHING THE COLOR OF OLD MUSTARD AND CALL IT A DAY BLAH WHATEVER UGH.

Dress a boy in pink, every person you meet will tell you how cute she is.

Tell them “she” is a “he” and they’ll look at you like you just set fire to the kid. They’ll call Child Protective Services so fast, your kid will be on a boat to some Island of Orphans before you get to change another diaper. A boy? In pink? Abuse! Abuse!

It’s easy to fall into that trap, to think that all of this is just normal. That’s this is biology’s expression — it’s not us! It’s just the program, man. As basic as eating food and drinking water.

It’s a firehose spraying bullshit.

My wife, growing up, liked boy toys. Action figures and such.

And she bought those toys in secret. And played with them in secret. (Her mother would stealthily ask her, “What toys do you think your brother would like?” and then buy those for my wife.) This ruse was because the act of buying boy toys for a young girl just wasn’t “normal.” Because other kids already had assumptions — rules! — hammered into their tender little brain meats.

Kids aren’t programmed biologically.

They’re programmed psychologically.

By us. By their parents. By society. Not at birth. But in all the years after.

And though I think I’m burying the lede here, this societal programing is wholly on display at the local toy aisles at your nearest store. This aisle is pink, they say, winking and elbowing. This aisle is not all blue, but it’s mostly blue, and here is where you’ll find Batman, they add. The girls have the dolls. The kitchen stuff. The baby carriages. Girls are homemakers. Keepers of the domestic delights. Make me cupcakes! Curry a pony. Hug a stuffed animal. Boys are doers. Action! Aggression! Drive here! Punch that. Build this thing.

The job of the girl is compassion and support.

The job of the boy is action and violence.

Girls are princesses. Boys are kings.

Like I said: a firehose spraying bullshit.

Women can be aggressive. Men can be supporters.

Women can be scientists and builders and leaders.

Men can be homemakers and nurses and secretaries.

Gender isn’t a rigid two-party system. Gender is a spectrum.

But that’s not easy thinking. And we seem to like easy thinking.

And so you go to your toy aisle and it’s all set up in binary. It becomes clear that while women can be construction workers and men can be nurses, society doesn’t jolly well want them to be. These toxic signals, this venomous frequency, starts when they’re this young. When they’re toddlers. When they’re told about pink and blue. When they’re shown what roles are best suited for them based what they have in their diapers, not what they have in their hearts and minds.

Let’s talk for a moment about Transformers: Rescue Bots.

It’s a fun show. It’s the Playskool pre-school Transformers show. It’s not violent and you don’t have any Decepticons. The robots mostly do rescue stuff and when they do “fight” they fight like, volcanos or escaped zoo lions or out-of-control lawnmower robots. Plus, a show like this forms a tiny but significant bridge between what I liked as a kid and what my son likes now (which is why, I assume, the toy aisles are full of the same toy lines I saw as a kid — nostalgia).

The show has four robots. (Well, six if you count the occasional Optimus and Bumblebee.)

These robots are all dudes.

The robots are “piloted” by members of one family: the Burns family. One dad. Three brothers. One sister. The youngest boy, Cody, has a friend — Frankie, who is a young black girl. Daughter to Doc Greene, played by Levar Burton. The show has two female characters, then (and two African-American characters).

It’s not ideal. But, okay, let’s at least admit that Dani is a capable character — as capable as her brothers — and further, Frankie is frequently the smartest person in the room. She’s science-minded, and not-like, pink and girly science-minded (“I’m trying to science up the perfect cupcake for my dollies!”) but she knows real science. It’s pretty all right.

Now, let’s talk about the toys.

Again, four (to six) robots.

The robots are paired with their pilots.

Except for Blades, the helicopter. Blades’ pilot — Dani, the sister — is nowhere to be found as a toy. And neither is Frankie, the other girl. Which means the toy line has absolutely zero representation of women. Which, uhhh, sucks. It sucks for the girls who want to play with Rescue Bots. It sucks for my son, who should be able to enter the world seeing it as it is — where 51% of his fellow humans are women, equal and visible and capable.

Used to be you could see ads like the one at the front of this post.

But now you get ads and packaging like:

And man, that’s sad.

It’s not sad because girls shouldn’t like pink. It’s not sad because they shouldn’t be allowed to like clothes and fashion and other preconceived “girly” stuff. It’s sad because that’s all we think they should like. It’s sad not because a girl might want a pink microscope but because it’s the worst one in the bunch in terms of actual magnification. It’s sad because we assume that boys are the ones who play with bulldozers and soldiers and science, and girls aren’t shown on the boxes because they don’t like those things — or maybe it’s that we don’t want them to like those things, just as we don’t want our boys to learn to cook or raise a kid. It’s sad because we assume these gender boundaries mean so much when they only mean a little, and it’s sad because when our kids don’t stay inside the fence (the fence we basically made up), you get a little boy who likes My Little Pony so much that he gets bullied so much that he tries to kill himself.

All the awful things we believe about our genders, all the terrible expectations we place on our kids — it starts here. It starts in the toy aisle. Sure, it begins in the hearts of adults, adults who have fallen prey to this themselves, or adults who want to reinforce the norms and types that keep them in power, but for our kids, all of begins here. It begins in the pink versus blue. They see it on toy packages, in the representations of the toys themselves, in movies, cartoons, marketing.

This is where gay-bashing begins. This is where misogyny starts.

This is where a host of cruel inclinations toward folks who are different arise. A nasty, gnarly little seed — seemingly innocuous — embedded in the dirt of our children’s subconscious minds.

No great call to action, here. But if this starts in the toy aisle, it’s up to us to counterbalance the bullshit in our own homes. By trying to let our kids be who they’re going to be on the gender spectrum, and by doing our level best to protect them from a world that isn’t quite ready for that. The alternative is trying to stop them from being who they really are…

…which most would tell you, I think, is no life at all.

149 comments

  • Additionally, you could always think back to the time like, around the 1930’s or so (sometime in the earlier 1900s), when the gender stereotype was reversed, and it was believed that pink was for boys, and blue for girls, because pink was ‘manly’ and blue was ‘pwetty’.
    Either way though, it doesn’t really make much sense to say that one gender would like a certain colour more than any other, or that it would fit them better. It’s really personal preference of which colour someone likes, regardless of their gender.

  • I didn’t even realize that gender toys would be a concern with me, but I found myself detesting the toys aimed at toddler girls. My mother bought my daughter a toy vanity set for toddlers, and the very name alone is a trait I do not wish to instill in my daughter. But this thing tells her she’s pretty and it has a toy lipstick and powder puff and I HATE IT. I don’t wear makeup often, and i dont want her to think that making herself pretty is defining her self worth. Maybe I’m reading too much into it, but I’m keeping it behind all of her toys and waiting until my mom forgets about its existence to promptly donate it. Her favorite toy right now is a set of plastic, realistic-looking snakes. My mom thinks this is morbid, I think I have a future herpetologist.

  • The saddest thing to me is that this starts before the child is even born. I recently had my first baby, and we registered for gender neutral items. I didn’t want all pink and purple stuff if we were having a girl, nor did I want sports stuff for a boy. When we registered it was extremely difficult to find items that were fun and cute that weren’t obviously boy or girl. Green and yellow with ducks and monkeys were really our only options. It was frustrating and disappointing. In fact, we had a girl and I end up shopping in the boys section more often because they have the bold colors and cuter dragon and animal outfits etc. The girls section has lace, frill, poodles and pink- ugh!

  • too true! and so many personal examples for both me and my brother (I still remember when my teacher read us Rapunzel in school for the first time and I was all, “Na-ah, the prince DOES NOT save Rapunzel, people, it’s the OTHER WAY AROUND sillies DUH” cause my mother sometimes read us fairy tales with the gender roles reversed when she got too annoyed with every single female having to be saved) (and my brother coming home in tears and swearing he’d never wear his favorite pink socks ever again, still makes me awfully sad thinking about it, I felt so bad). there’s so much discrimination between students in schools, and it’s true that it’s not really the kids’ fault at all, more the influence of their parents upon them. and thus the influence of marketing upon the parents.
    I mean, I can’t tell you the number of times I got told I was satan’s spawn or was going to roast in hell or whatever torturous thing the poor kid had heard in church that weekend (I even had my best friend in fourth grade ‘break up’ with me because I wasn’t religious. it made her too sad to be reminded each day that she couldn’t save me). this was not something a ten-year-old would generally come up all by their lonesome, the poor bitties.
    and then there’s the whole CAN’T FIND A BLEEPING PAIR OF UNDERWEAR (etc etc etc) for a kid that doesn’t have BLEEPING DISNEY CINDERELLA/SPIDER-MAN/DORA’S gob plastered on the front. not only is it ‘hey kid, here ya go, even your panties tell you who you’re supposed to be’, it’s also ‘hey kid, here ya go, capitalism and branding a go-go ain’t it fun!’
    anyhow, cheers to the food-thoughts!

  • I make the McDonald’s drive-thru workers crazy each time I visit. I enjoy the occasional happy meal, don’t judge. When they ask if I want a boy or girl toy I usually tell them there is no such thing and ask, What are the choices. Maybe I’m in a transformer mood one day and My Little Pony mood the next. You have now officially motivated me to write to corporate and try to get them to stop asking that way! I teach Pre-K and find myself having to tell the parents and the kids, toys are for people, not for boys or girls. We had a parent bring in cupcakes for a birthday. Cars for the boys, princesses for the girls. Imagine their shock and horror when I asked each child which type of cupcake they would like! Really people? Thanks for your honesty.

  • I never ever played with baby dolls. As a little girl I much preferred stuffed animals, Muppets, and Snoopy dolls. The one baby doll someone foisted upon me was the target of the stuffed animals’ aggression. Needless to say, I don’t have children now. Maybe I always inherently knew…

    Also, as a child of the 70s, I loved Horror comics – like Creepy, Strange Tales, and Fangoria. I never had a Big Wheel and always wanted one. Don’t you always remember that ONE TOY you didn’t get? Yep, mine was a boy’s toy.

  • I was a kid back in the 50’s. My sister and I got dolls, but I don’t remember much about them. What I remember was playing with my brother’s Legos, Erectors, Lincoln logs and such. Making pulleys and gears work Making the pieces fit together. Of course I never got any for myself and when the tree came down, the construction toys went to his room and I didn’t get to play with them again. When my son was born, we bought mostly gender neutral toys, lots of Lego and trucks, but a kitchen and baby dolls too.

  • I agree with all of this EXCEPT – children ARE programmed biologically (and psychologically). I’m sorry but it’s true. They do NOT come out of you like an empty bottle to be filled. They are FULL to BUSTING of their own personality and likes and dislikes already. It IS up to us to give every little filled up person the chance to be their best but there is pre-installed operating system on your tiny baby. Anyone who has more than one child brought up in the same home, same parents, same influences will tell you that.

    • You can’t just state that something is simply true without valid support of your statement and anecdotal evidence is not a valid form of support. Also, your anecdotal evidence is highly simplified and falls apart pretty much the second one realizes the fact that when a second or third child is born the family changes. What do I have to support this? Math. Three plus one is four. There is now an extra person in the family and siblings influence each other. Time has an article that summarizes some of the effects: http://content.time.com/time/magazine/article/0,9171,1209949-1,00.html

  • I liked hot wheels, legos,video games and tmnt growing up. I also played with dolls, and stuffed animals. I liked to read and ride my bike as well. I liked it all but video games, I liked the most.

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