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 responses to “Boy Toys, Girl Toys, And Other Cuckoopants Gender Assumptions”
Before I had kids, I (a dude) wanted more little dudes running around the house. But what I got were two little chicka mini-me’s. Both girls, and once they got mobile, I discovered girls were awesome. Because little girls will do what ever daddy is doing; building something, breaking something, writing something, burning something. Then, once we were finished, they would curl up in my lap and just do this thing where they ooze sweetness and make me want to never let go.
I’m the only male in the household of 7 creatures. (the yard dog doesn’t count) So while I revel in my maleness, it’s good to have the softer, feminine id to sink into at times. It has affected my writing; somehow, so far, 3/4 of my main characters are chicks. and even my one male MC has a female partner.
awwww! That is the sweetest thing I’ve read in a long while. You go daddy!
You want to watch someone’s head explode? Dress a baby in a gender-neutral color, wait for the inevitable boy/girl question, then ask, “What are you planning on doing with that information?” in a tone that makes them sound like their intentions aren’t honorable.
I mean, c’mon, who needs to know if a six-month old is a boy or a girl. Seriously? Okay, the kid’s doctor maybe.
I gotta tell you, that is one seriously interesting social experiment — that I will not be repeating soon.
Also worth noting that less than a hundred years ago, the ‘pink is for girls, blue is for boys’ “rules” were completely the other way around.
Huh! Did not know that.
Yep – a lot of things we regard as long-standing cultural traditions etc are actually radical reversals. Or, indeed, just the latest switcheroo in the ceaseless ebb and flow of what’s ‘normal’ or ‘traditional’.
Like God in the Pledge and on our currency. Also new. Like brand-spanking new in the historical sense.
You also realize many US cultural traditions aren’t “natural” when you know that other countries have different traditions. I kind of knew that growing up an immigrant. Percent of women in technology in India: 40%, percent in the US: 20%.
I believe the rationale for pink as a “boys’” colour was that it was close to red, a fiery, masculine colour (???) — according to the prevailing wisdom of the day. The dates on the article you shared are very interesting — had no idea the pink-as-boys colour prevailed so far into the 20th century.
I study historical clothing and textiles for a living, the older the better. In grad school, we were taught this: Blood is red. Pink is part of the red family, so boys were dressed in red to reflect their future as little warriors. Blue, at least in Christian dominated societies, was a color seen frequently in association with iconography or other religious artwork of Mary, and came to be associated with Marian ideals. Purity, self sacrifice, and whatnot would abound by dressing a small girl in blue.
I like to pretend, when I walk down the toy aisles, that we are viewing little girls as warrior queens, though I know it’s not the case. It’s just the only way I can stomach it.
Speaking as well to the original post, I’ve heard that the toys based on the wildly popular My Little Pony show for the current crop of humans in progress are hugely impacted by this gendered nonsense. The distant princess to whom letters are written is white on the show, but for years had only pink toys, because Walmart feared the toys wouldn’t sell otherwise. Only when a different princess pony who was pink arrived on shelves did that change.
As a child, I played with My Little Ponies and loved them. On a whim, I dug them out of storage not too long ago, where my mother put them in hopes of use by nonexistent future grandchildren. They are every color imaginable. I have bright orange, green, yellow, and dark purple ponies, and plenty of blue; they aren’t locked in to soft pastels. I even have a full grown male pony who is a becoming shade of bubblegum pink. He was the favorite battle steed of Skeletor in my childhood.
It makes me sad to see that kind of creativity stripped away from the children I know because their parents are the ones feeling the social pressure to only ever introduce them to the blue aisles.
I suspect that a toy line with a decent concept that included diversity as part of its core would clean up.
You’re right, Chuck. It infests everything! It’s part of my utter frustration with the general crop of “strong female characters” that separate themselves from the rest of their gender by virtue of some special trait that let’s them compete with the boys. Thankfully, it’s not in your work! I hate what ends up feeling like a general assumption that need some added bonus to make them as capable at doing “boy stuff” as their male counterparts. “Boy stuff” and “girl stuff” are just people stuff, whether it’s whipping up confections in the kitchen or riding out to save a local town from bandits.
I think the worst part about the “strong female characters” conundrum is that it’s often done with the best of intentions. It starts in the toy aisle and just unravels outward from there.
I have a picture of my 18-month-niece in my office. She’s wearing grey pyjamas that have cartoon Santas all over them, which for some reason makes everyone assume she’s a boy. And people get weirdly defensive – I keep having versions of this conversation: “So cute! What’s his name?” “Eleanor.” “Oh, well, she should be wearing pink/she should have a bow in her hair/her hair is so short, I couldn’t tell.” I don’t care so much that they mistake her for a boy, but don’t start telling me what you think my sister is doing wrong as a parent, especially when that thing is just not putting bows in her toddler’s hair.
I got a stroller for my son when he was little to put his Mr. Bear in. He used the shit out of that stroller. His father had a problem with it but I didn’t care. I was a girl that had a whole bunch of Sic Million Dollar Man action figures and toys when I was a kid and I loved them. I wasn’t limiting my son.
Funny you used the Lego picture. Saw this awesome letter to Lego from a 7 year old girl asking why so few girl Legos and why they don’t have adventures, too: http://www.usatoday.com/story/news/nation-now/2014/02/04/lego-letter-girl-more-boys/5201353/
Also discovered an amazing blog, Gendermom, by a woman raising a transgender 6 year old (he told her at 3 he was born the wrong way and lives as a girl now). She deals with these issues a lot as her daughter has definite ideas of what make her a girl (pink, skirts, etc.). Fascinating stuff.
With our two girls’ Lego collection, we have tried to counterbalance the huge bias towards male minifigs in the standard sets by selectively buying the sealed mystery packs of minifigs (it’s not easy to figure out which the Amazon warrior or female scientist or woman space explorer are, let me tell you). yes there are the Friends sets, but we didn’t want to leave it at the roles Lego seemed to be assigning with their sets. So, somewhat anomalously, our girls’ Lego table features some stormtroopers and male firefighters but a far greater number of female minifigs, with just as much variety in occupations/roles as the male ones, if not more.
BUT: it is ridiculous to have to game the purchasing of what should be a gender-neutral toy like Lego.
Do you have any actual official LEGO stores near you, David? In the one nearest to us, they do a kind of ‘pick’n’mix’ of the minfigures; big tubs of assorted heads, bodies, legs, headgear and accessories that you can rummage around in and put together your own, custom minifigures (with one accessory of choice for each figure, i.e. swords, torches, brooms, magic wands – that kind of thing.) It’s £3.50 (about $5.75) for a set of three custom minfigures, which is pretty damn good considering sealed mystery packs are £2 for just one. And yes, there are plenty of girl heads and hairdos on offer, so you can put them with other girl bits if you want or put her in a police uniform or pirate outfit instead if you want.Genius idea that should’ve been thought of years ago really.
I don’t have an actual Lego store nearby, unfortunately — that build-your-own minifg idea is something my girls would LOVE. They currently swap the head and bodies of all the ones they have now so sometimes Queen Cleopatra has adventures in full stormtrooper armour, while a pirate swans around in a kimono.
Sadly I think that letter is bogus…it seems to be written by someone who has never actually played with the LEGO Friends line. While I don’t really like the Friends minifigs (they are just as interchangeable as regular minifigs, but with more boring clothing options…who cares if you can switch their tanktop colors, AMIRITE?), the Friends sets themselves are pretty great. They’re the same difficulty/# of pieces as other sets with the same rating, and the professions/activities, while focused around an imaginary city, are pretty cool. The Friends are cast as farmers, teachers, veterinarians, inventors, magicians, sports coaches, chefs, among other things. They do karate, ride jet skis, drive sports cars and boats, go camping, act on stage, ride horses, design fashion. They also work with any of the other LEGO sets. Anyway. I think the line is much maligned…it compliments the other sets (people DO want to build with bricks other than bright primaries!). My daughter owns both, and is excited and interested by all kinds of LEGO. While she does not in any way feel limited to the Friends LEGO at this point, the Friends WERE the gateway to her interest.
I have three sons. (Cue theme song–only old people will understand that.) My middle boy loved to powder his face and play in my purse. But the only thing my boys did with their play kitchen was turn it on its side and ride it like it was a Mack truck. And the only thing they ever did in the kitchen was pull out all the pots and pans and make noise. I tried. I really did. Now they’re men with big hairy feet.
Hey! Knowing the theme to My Three Sons doesn’t make you old…they showed it for years in reruns! 😉
I’m the youngest in my family – with an older brother – and so without any sisters around, I just did whatever my brother did. If he played with Leggo, I did too. When he played in the dirt, I was right there next to him (much to my Mum’s shock and horror of getting my dresses all dirty). I also helped him practice his soccor/football and then I did the most horrible thing of all!
I took up skateboarding!
Oh the shock! The Horror! The pain of my folks watching me get on a skateboard and falling off it continuously and not being able to help me…. but I did it, aged 11 and was the first female skatehead in my area – much to the absolute disgust and horror of the male population of Logan City…
and Brunswick Heads…
So, I just did what I did, which was skateboard and enjoy the freedom of being who I was. And everyone around me could fucked… so to say…. because the girls couldn’t do what I did without (OMG!) breaking a precious nail!
Now, my brother is proud of me. Skateboarding made me tough. My balance, reflexes and everything about myself are more in synch; but if I didn’t take up the sport, I would have been just another girl. Instead, I can physically move heavier things than I’m supposed to, I can run faster, throw better, climb higher (not that I like heights) and yet, when I fall down, I heal faster than if I didn’t have skateboarding in my life… and yet I felt like I lost a limb when I had to give it up due to a 4.3 Melanoma on the back of my left leg.
Never mind… I took up roller blading instead! Very cool… I never stacked it and my instructer loved teaching me because he found I wasn’t much of a sissy as most women. 🙂
However, I’m 40 now, and it’s now I’m getting into finding my inner girl… my inner teenager I never was when I was supposed to be. I’m finding nice dresses, good make-up, getting that perfect hair style…. what the hell is wrong with me! I asked Mum and she’s told me that I’m mellowing… blech! I hate that. 😛
I still love my RHCP, U2 and INXS all on vinyl and yet, I can’t eat all the junkfood I used to. Pity… I miss all that stuff…and yet, I still think girls should be able to do what they want when they want; just like I did when I grew up. As much as I shocked my folks when I took up skateboarding, I became a legend (as I’ve been told by a skateboarding guru lately) as I was the first ever female to break that famous glass ceiling in sports… and get us girls into something none of use ever did here.
But ask me to get onto a skateboard today, and I’d stack it in a second. 😛
My 8 year old daughter is trying to learn to skateboard. I am not much help as I never learned as a kid. (Her two older sisters were never interested — the board is handed down from her now-grown brother but I don’t think he rode it that much either.)
Just make sure the main king pin is screwed well onto the board… that’s the big round piece in the middle of the axels, front and back… and the little nuts on the main piece holiding the whole axel itself to the board. If any of that is lose, your daughter will end up having quite a few scars she need not have.
Otherwise, skateboarding is a little like swimming; it exercises all the muscles in your body. It’s great for your heart, your legs and back. However your calves become massive – that’s the only drawback. After you do stop (at some point, it does happen), you feel as though you can do anything… but I took up yoga and found I loved roller blading as it gave me the same zing skateboarding did. 😀
Bless you from a girl whose dad was manly enough to give her a bodacious metal F-4 that made sparks when you pushed it across the sidewalk and every Hotwheel I wanted. It made it so much easier to deal with stupidity when I hit the USAF & some troglodyte asked “are you a REAL officer?!” Like the polyester skirt the numbskulls crammed me in somehow feminized my ability to lead mayhem and madness.
A couple of years back, my daughter (4 at the time) informed us that she wanted a princess tow truck for Christmas. It took Santa a bit of work to convert the standard Tonka truck into an appropriately princess-ified toy for her, but she loves it. She also likes to play with toy motorcycles (no princess involved).
Sometimes we worry a bit that she’s getting too influenced by school and peer pressure — she loves to play the dress-up and make-up Flash games online — but she also plays Batman and Mario and Fireboy and Watergirl games. The hardest thing for us as parents is making sure she’s trying out all of her options. If she decides to go with girly things (princess of pink some days!), we try to be okay with that, and it’s easier when we know she does play other things.
A half century ago, when I was a little girl, my father, divorced from my father bought us for Christmas cowboy cap gun pistols and plastic covered wagons complete with horses and little plastic people. My mother was furious and put them in the attic. After a while my mother relented and brought the wagons down. The guns we snaked down ourselves, though after we ran through the caps the guns lost their appeal. They were my favorite toys. I played with them with my Barbies, of course, but my favorite toys none-the-less.
So well said. And once we leave the toy aisle, and perhaps venture into the world of video games, a young girl can soon learn what happens if she tries to become inquisitive about the lack of female protagonists in the games she likes to play. http://femfreq.tumblr.com/post/52673540142/twitter-vs-female-protagonists-in-video-games
But it goes beyond that, of course. Boys depicted as the aggressors, the criminals, the soldiers, the badasses.
And the gender clusterfuck continues into movies and literature and television and religion and…yeah. We have a lot of work to do.
The “Let Toys Be Toys” campaign in the UK has gained some traction here and a number of major retailers pulled their gender-based labelling and signage over Christmas.
Their site is http://www.lettoysbetoys.org.uk and @LetToysBeToys on Twitter.
Damn the accuracy of this post.
I have two small boys. They would have married trucks when they were B-Dub’s age. But you know what? They also loved pink. And the movies Brave and Tangled. My almost 4yo still does. My 6yo is in kindergarten and it seems that no matter what I recinforce at home, no matter how much I am all feminist and rejecting gender roles up in this piece, he gets the message BOY THINGS and GIRL THINGS from his peers (and their parents). And that message is winning.
And now he doesn’t like pink anymore. Because it’s for girls.
He still sits down and watches Brave but only when he thinks no one is looking.
It breaks my heart and as of yet, I’ve found no way to stop it.
My nephew is 3. He loves trucks and all his baby dolls his big cousins gave him. He’s his babies’ dad AND their physician (fisher price doctor kit.) He also loves MIL FiM. My sister and I bawled last week when we read about Michael Morones. I keep checking on his recovery but it’s hard to find updates. I think he’s still in a coma. I can’t imagine what his parents are going through. It’s too upsetting.
On a less depressing but equally frustrating note, my daughters have “boy” interests. They were in chess club for years, which they eventually quit because they became two of the only three girls out of something like 40 kids. They tried to go to Lego camp. The only girls there. Didn’t want to go back. They played soccer and basketball at recess with the boys but it gets rough because certain boys get angry and target them — especially if they do well! They’re in percussion club. Again, they’re two of three girls. One wants to quit and I have to ride this line between “I understand, too many not-so-nice boys” and “stop quitting things you like because of gender pressure!” I keep telling them to look for the boys who are on their side, who get it. But those boys feel pressure to acquiesce to the “no girls allowed” attitude. It’s all programming, and you’re right, Chuck, it’s bullshit. It could be over tomorrow if we sat everyone down today and got them to see how it’s killing their spirits.
Thank you for writing this.
Please excuse typos. Like a dork, I typed this all on my phone.
For instance it should be MLP FiM – My Little Pony, Friendship is Magic. And I just found an update that says Michael Morones was taking independent breaths as of Feb 7th.
Great post, Chuck. I have no more to add, other than to say kudos. You’re spot on. When my girls are older, I will read it to them. 🙂
Author of A Keeper’s Truth
I remember many years ago when Matthew, my middle son, was four, he asked for a barbie for Christmas. We were a bit taken aback; the parents of three boys, our oldest who suffered from Aspergers never had the slightest interest in girl stuff. However, we resolved to be good modern parents. Certainly, my father would have blown a fuse, but we were better than that. We purchased his desired barbie doll, wrapped it and addressed it from Santa.
Christmas morning, the boys dug into their presents. Matthew opened the package with delight, happy to see Santa came through. Five minutes later, he was running through the house with a naked barbie doll. Ten minutes later, she was dismembered and lying strewn throughout the hallway, forever forgotten.
And my wife and I didn’t know whether to feel relieved, or worried.
I connected with this, but also with the link Dave Goodman mentions in his comments above, mostly the part where it’s noted that the 70s saw mostly gender-neutral clothes etc. I look back at pics of me and my elder brother (who is about 15 months older than me) and find that my parents dressed us as twins half the time. My hair was kept fairly short and we looked pretty alike in our earliest years. Our clothes were the colors of the 70s – orange, brown, green. I can’t remember having much, if any, pink. My fingernails got painted expressly to make me stop biting them. I had exactly one Barbie: a “used” one (today they’re called “vintage”) with curly red hair so it looked more like me. I barely played with it.
I also recall we had to share all of our toys, which meant my EZ Bake oven, his LEGO blocks, the games, the trucks… all were shared and no one said one word about gender-appropriateness. (E.g. My father – a cement truck driver – is a fantastic baker and my mother never could cook.) I think it just further supports my idea that TV ads are the bane of humanity, but I’m trying to refrain from too much cynicism here. 🙂
Yep. My son (6 next month) is very similar. He has always loved trucks and blocks and tool toys. Oh, and he loves his stuffed animals (a bunch of which are birds that he declared a family) and cooking toys (He loves making fake food for people too). Sometimes he and his toys are armies battling monsters and sometimes he sets up a picnic with them (which he always calls a “honey picnic” for some reason). Mirrors and combs are awesome. So are transformers. And yet sometimes it feels like a battle because there are things like his castle lego which only has one girl legoperson – the princess who is supposed to be locked up in the bad guy’s castle waiting for rescue. And my son picked right up on that cue that was saying ok, girls can’t be part of the battles or adventures. So I had to pull an intervention there and suggest that yes, the princess could join in. One time I had the princess stage her own breakout. Another time I said that she could have magic just like the evil wizard. A third time he told me she couldn’t fight in a dress with no armor like the soldiers had so we talked about it (it was a good point after all) and put the girl’s head on an armor and pants body and then she could take part just like the boy legopeople. So yeah, girl toy? Boy toy? Crap. Toys are toys and kids just love to play. It would be nice if the toy companies and society at large weren’t making that such a damn hard concept sometimes.
And here’s where I admit that I’m certainly not perfect on this issue though so I understand the difficulty. I have had my moments of failure. There was a haircut (hairstyling would be better I guess) and a couple of outfits that my wife came up with for my son that I initially resisted. My first thoughts were “that looks like it belongs on a girl!” and I didn’t like them. And I complained to my wife about them. And I was wrong. And, after I’d take a little time to reflect on my initial feelings of them and see that my son liked the hair and the clothes I mellowed. And I made it a point to tell him I thought they looked good on him too and that if he liked the style then that’s all that mattered.
And my biggest hope is that I do my job well enough so that when my son is my age he doesn’t have to occasionally talk himself down from that kind of knee-jerk thinking.
I’m so glad I’m not alone in thinking this. I’m lucky I don’t have any little girls to buy for because everything just looks like the sparkly lovechild of Barbie and Strawberry Shortcake. My godson’s dad won’t allow him to play with toy kitchens because he doesn’t think it’s something a boy should play with. How is the child supposed to learn how to cook?
The irony of the pink/blue thing is that before the 1940’s, the colours were the other way around. Pink was for the boys’ because it was a strong colour, and blue was for the girls because it was considered more dainty.
I think it’s great that that second picture has a boy in second from the left. It is a boy right? I mean, he’s wearing all blue! I get confused sometimes.
Not actually a snark at this post, which is awesome. It’s probably the sociologist in me but I think a lot of people get Sex and Gender confused all the time. Sex, as a biological term, is male/female/other which is based scientifically on genitalia, chromosones, and other biology sciency stuff. Gender is a social construct term, it’s what we identify as. It’s ok to be sexed male and gendered female. It’s ok to be sexed female and gendered male. It’s ok to be sexed and gendered anything you really can be, and that is what people need to be more aware of.
As a young boy I got a lot of crap because I liked making stories with my sister’s My Little Ponies and Barbie Dolls as I enjoyed playing Cops and Robbers outside or with my own “action” figures. And I’m no longer sure where I’ going with this point except that I wonder a lot how much more open socially I’d be if things like that had been accepted instead of made into something that had to be hidden.
Luckily, there are some companies out there fighting it. Here’s a commercial done by Goldie Blox (http://www.goldieblox.com/pages/about) that aired during the Super Bowl this year: http://www.justjared.com/2014/02/02/goldieblox-super-bowl-commercial-2014-video-watch-now/
Even better, it’s a toy AND an interactive book series!
When my daughter was about 7 or 8 she started asking me if she could have some new Barbie doll for her birthday. Unthinking, I said, “I thought you liked Transformers.” She looked me square in the eye, put her hands on her hips and said, “Mom, I cal like Barbie AND Transformers. It’s allowed in the laws of physics.” Couldn’t have said it better myself.
“It’s allowed in the laws of physics.” That is so freaking adorable (and spot-on!) that I can’t stop giggling 😀
When my daughter was born, over 30 years ago, I carefully made sure all clothing was in green or yellow or purple. Any color other than pink. Toys were a careful balance of tonka trucks, action figures and a doll or two. Did it make a difference? I don’t know, but I feel like I gave her a chance to choose her own path.
I remember this came up around Halloween when someone tweeted pics of the costume packaging showing boys on the “doctor” costumes and girls (in the newly trending stripper, jr version) of “pop star”. I appreciate how you said it’s not that girls wanting pink glittery crap is bad – it’s a problem if it’s the only option. I for one, loved pink glittery shit but I also loved my brother’s Matchbox cars and Star Wars figures. Luckily no one ever seemed to mind getting me my own Matchbox cars if I picked them out but I will say they were usually purple and glittery.
Toddlers are basically tiny drunken chimpanzee robots trying to figure out how to be people.
I’m stealing this line. A lot.
My oldest son likes playing in the kitchen and cooking. My youngest son has dolls that he likes to dress up. (we have two boys) When their female cousin comes over, she aims straight for the trucks and tanks and action figures, because she loves them, but her mother doesn’t believe in buying them for her…
Agreed on Rescue Bots, I noticed the lack of Dani as well (and we started watching it together for the exact same reasons! ) But the show does make me happy in that, imo, Dani and Frankie are the two most competent characters on the whole show.
Oh, gosh, that article of that little boy was awful! Look what the damn world has come to: bullying and eleven year old suicide attempts and gender stereotypes. e.e
This is great. My nieces are all over the place and I love that my sister doesn’t try to push them into a corner like some parents do. One Halloween, she was a princess. The next, she was Spiderman. She likes to get dirty and play with trucks but then will run inside and play house or cook food from her toy kitchen.
My mother had 3 girls she wanted to be pretty little darlings. She ended up with 3 tomboys. Growing up our neighborhood was 90% boys. We played army, GI Joe, Transformers and whatever else we wanted to. We played in the mud, built forts, got into fights, played football, soccer, basketball and everything else with the boys. I can expressly remember arguing with my group of boys when we were pretend playing Voltron and they insisted I had to be the pink lion/princess because I was the girl. I eventually got my way and was the red lion because those boys knew I wasn’t about to be the helpless girly girl.
My own daughter is a wonderful blend of “girly-girl” and “tomboy”. She likes to wear dresses and pretty high heels. She likes jewelry. But at the same time you will often find her ankle deep in the mud in the creek in a pretty dress, heels kicked off on the bank, building a dam with the boys mud stuck to her cheeks and leaves in her unruly hair. I adore it because it is HER.
Since my two (a boy and a girl) are in their 20’s now, I haven’t paid much attention to toys until recently. Recently had two friends post pics of their kids on Facebook – one was a girl, playing with her new trucks. The other was a friend’s little boy and his teaset. The comments ranged from go you! to adorable! to WHAT? WHY DOES HE HAVE A TEA SET omg you are warping that child! I saw myself having reactions too – such as ‘oh good for you Kirsten, giving your daughter a truck!’ and ‘oh he is so cute with his tea set, love it!’ and then questioned my own reactions that it was a big deal given I grew up with trucks, trains, oh and my beloved dumptruck, a big yellow metal thing with sharp dangerous edges I am sure kids aren’t allowed to have anymore. My own kids grew up playing with each others’ toys (including the huge bucket of legos that were passed around to all the different grandkids and great grandkids). I didn’t think much of it back then – my son had a kitchen and an easy bake oven, daughter was killer at Kinex. But now… now I think about these things, and I kinda resent that.
Absolutely right on. We need to separate the idea that sexual orientation is determined by gender and that there are different roles for each. We tried to get away from all that crap in the 70’s but it’s back full force and doing a lot of harm.
One of my most memorable toys when I was a kid was a Planet of the Apes treehouse, complete with PoA action figures (supplemented by Dracula and the Wolfman–I guess I was into crossovers). I got it for my 8th or 9th birthday.
I took my younger daughter to Target this weekend to buy stuff with the gift card she got for her 11th birthday. She loves to build things so we hit the Lego aisle. After looking around for a while, she sighed heavily. “It’s all just boy stuff.” Argh! Despite my best efforts, she’s been brainwashed. It’s really hard for kids and parents to escape the pervasive gender-stereotyped advertising. (We did come home with a Lego Hobbit set, finally.)
Well, my daughter enjoyed playing with her dolls when she was younger.
Xena dolls, X-men dolls, dinosaurs, and she loathed Barbie. She owns a LEGO Death Star (but hasn’t built it yet – she has plenty of other big LEGO kits she has constructed) she’s now 22 and 2nd Dan Jujitsu (she knows half a dozen ways to kill a person).
My son (17) does not get embarrassed crying at movies. (We all do it.)
It really is a matter of upbringing.
You know, I really think we’ve gotten much worse on this–and it makes me worry. As a kid growing up in the 60s and 70s, I was a terrific tomboy–as were most of my friends. I don’t remember pink being omnipresent, and though there was an expectation that girls would be more interested in dolls and easy-bake ovens, it didn’t feel so hard and fast. Or maybe it was, in the marketing, just not for me, who didn’t get out much.
I’ve been raising a pair of boys, and I’ll admit they didn’t get dolls (I never liked dolls, so never thought of them as a desirable toy) (they do have piles of sutffies, which they still love and believe me, they aren’t toddlers any more). I’ve wondered how I’d do with a girl–I’m still a total tomboy, don’t do pink, makeup, or dresses. It would freak me out if I had a child who was int the whole princess thing.
Something else, too: look at all the text in that ad from the 70s! Can’t do that now!
I don’t always agree with you on everything, but on this topic I feel you are spot on. I was one of the lucky ones. My parents bought be Hot Wheels, Tonka Trucks, stuffed animals and dolls. My dad brought me home comic books, and not just Archie or other “girl” comics. I owe my folks a lot for not following the “norm”.
Nail on head, Chuck. We ahve 2 of each gender and we let them play with whatever they like. I leanred early on that my boys liek wearing the princess clothes and my girls loved playing video games and playing with blocks jsut as much as my boys. My sons still have stuffed animals and my 18 year old boy was a Brony. He simply doesn’t care what other people think. My youngest son likes dolls and unicorns. My oldest daughter was not the least bit feminine until maybe junior year in High School. She is now, but it was her choice. My youngest daughter has always loved wearing dresses, from teh time she was very tiny. It wasn’t anything we promoted. All four are very different in what they like, but I’m sure society has an influence, through school and television/internet. Sadly a very large influence as we get older and get out on our own. But we have always been advocates of being yourself and finding out what you really like and pursuing that.
You’ve given me something to think about. I have three nieces and so far I’ve mostly given them Barbies, mostly because I remember playing with them when I was little. (I also loved playing with trucks though. Hmmm.) I think I’ll switch it up to Batman, Superman, Wonder Woman, Mass Effect Fem Shephard or Transformers or trucks for their birthdays this year. (Don’t even get me started on why there are so few female action figures.)
Yeah, toys are branded way too specifically as girl-toys and boy-toys, and the media has way too many shows with 3 boy characters and 1 girl characters. Did you see the letter from the 7-year-old girl to Lego:
And a couple of years ago, an older girl wrote in about the Easy-Bake oven asking the toymaker why they’re all pink and purple. Her younger brother wanted one, but not a pink one–and when do you ever see pink ovens? The message went viral, and now you can get a red/chrome oven.
The Geena Davis Institute (www.seejane.org) has been studying gender in media. I think what prompted it is when Geena Davis had kids and was struck by how many shows had casts of 3 boys and 1 girl. So she launched a nonprofit to do the research and to suggest ways to improve things. For instance, here’s a suggestion from the Geena Davis Institute for screen writers:
When describing a crowd scene, write in the script, “A crowd gathers, which is half female.” That may seem weird, but I promise you, somehow or other on the set that day the crowd will turn out to be 17 percent female otherwise. Maybe first ADs think women don’t gather, I don’t know.
Our three-year-old son is super into superheroes right now, and it’s a shame to me that when he lines up all his heroes and villains, only three of them are female — Wonder Woman, Catwoman, and Harley Quinn: http://www.flickr.com/photos/ktbuffy/12427747555/
There’s so many great female superheroes out there, but the toy manufacturers continue to only focus on the men.
But I love that when he’s just playing at home with his big sister, he happily alternates dressing up as a knight and hitting things with his sword, and dressing up in his sister’s ballet costumes and tutus and dancing around.
My dad bought me a Meccano set when I was a kid. This was in the 70s. He was a feminist way ahead of his time.
You’re right, Chuck!
I have a Masters from Teachers College, and research about gender identification is fascinating to read. I’ve also taught infants and toddlers for the last 15 years. At first, I tried to keep my classroom gender neutral but realized that excluding pink was a mistake. Young children need choices!
In my experience, ALL the toddlers were attracted to sparkly handbags, pink high-heeled shoes & twirly skirts. And why not? Those things are beautiful.
Equally so, ALL the toddlers loved to stack block towers, crash cars & push trains on wooden tracks.
But as a teacher, the truly wonderful event was observing the children, both genders, decked out in the twirly skirts & high-heeled shoes, crashing their cars & building block towers, stuffing the sparkly purses with plastic animals to haul across the room on a “camping trip.”
And then the inevitable fight ensues.
“Mine!” “No, mine!”
I don’t have children, but even though I think I’d be ok if my daughter wanted to be a mechanic or a trucker, I’d find it upsetting if my son wanted to be a house-husband. It’s hard to shake the feeling that the most worthwhile activities are “manly”, while “girly stuff” is all shallow and superficial.
And yet. . . Those “girl jobs” (cooking and cleaning and clothing us) are actually the only ones that are essential. Funny how often things that women do, and especially those men can’t (like bearing children) get devalued in a male-dominated society. You have to admit it smacks of insecurity!
Speaking as a woman who can’t cook or clean worth a damn, there’s really nothing like having no skill whatsoever at those things to make you realize how important they are. My husband and my bestie (also a dude) love to cook; if it wasn’t for them I’d probably subsist on burgers and popcorn.
Thank you for writing this.
My 6-year-old son is pretty “gender-independent” – he has (by his own choice) very long hair, and likes pink (although he says his favourite colour is red, pink – the brighter the better – seems to be a close second), so people nearly always think he’s a girl at first sight. He’s also crazy about My Little Pony (which made reading about the boy who attempted suicide after being bullied for that especially painful to me). He likes to have pretend tea parties, with his pink and purple tea set (which I bought for him because he saw it in a store and fell in love with it), and to play animal hospital, bandaging his stuffed animals’ imaginary injuries and tucking them into bed.
However, he’s also massively into science, building things, and playing with Nerf guns, and the things he creates in Lego, or games like Blocksworld and Minecraft, disproportionately tend to involve projectiles, lasers and/or explosives. So really, he’s pretty much got an even mix of “boy” and “girl” interests, which seems like a good balance to me.
I do worry, a lot, about how he may eventually be affected by peer pressure and possibly bullying. But it’s not really an issue yet, because right now he’s got some other challenges that we’re dealing with – he’s on the autism spectrum and has trouble with transitions and impulse control, and tends to lash out when he’s feeling frustrated or threatened, so our main focus in terms of his schooling has been getting him a placement where that can be addressed (which it looks like we’ve finally found – yay!).
Although I suppose on the bright side, at this point if anyone tries to give him any grief about his hair, wearing pink, or liking MLP, he’s more apt to either clock them with the nearest blunt object, or start telling them in great deal about a death machine he’s going to build that will first electrocute them and then saw them into pieces and feed the pieces to sharks, than to feel like there’s something wrong with him. Anger management issues do have their up side, when it comes to dealing with peer pressure… 🙂
LOL, Lena! I have also found that my son who has Aspergers is not very susceptible to peer pressure, even as a teen! You have to care what others think and feel to feel peer pressure.
I have a 6-year-old son, and I didn’t try to raise him as a boy (as defined by society). Nor did I try to raise him gender-neutral. I just tried to raise him to be a good little nerd.
He used to play kitchen and now graduated to actual cooking. He likes trucks, doesn’t care for dolls but doesn’t hate them, and loves play fighting. His favorite color is green. So, I’m not sure what gender he typifies, and I don’t care. More important to me, he knows being a gentleman means treating girls AND boys well.
My only complaint? He prefers Matt Smith over David Tennant. Then again, he’s his own person and can like whom he likes. (But he is wrong.)
I totally agree. to a point. I have 5 daughters. and one son. I have a degree in engineering (I’m the mom) and I was and am really into sports (not the watching kind, the doing kind). My girls loved Barbies, but she was often a lion tamer and a mountain climber. My son had a cabbage patch doll (spaceman spiff), and I TRIED to get my girls interested in tools and cars, but they didn’t take it. My son loved to cook (still does), and he loved to babysit (still loves kids). My son also did lots of sports, went to west point, and goes to nationals and the Olympic trials in xc skiing. My daughters all did tae kwan do, and 2 of my daughters are very horsey (so is mom). Most of my daughters were varsity athletes (like their big brother) in running and swimming, but they are still beautiful girls (one tried modeling). I am now encouraging my granddaughters to shoot guns and ride horses and wear pink. I like to wear pink, because it’s not what you would expect out of me. My son wears pink too (occasionally). I like to encourage girls to be smart and beautiful and strong and kind… those are the girls who own the world. I like to encourage boys to be smart and kind, even though it goes against their testosterone poisoning. We need to encourage both of these choices!
Anything that allows and encourages a child to use their imagination should be available. Well done on this post Mr. Wendig!
When people try and make this “argument” with me (the boy vs girl “normal”) I usually tell them that as a child someone gave me a “Pretty Pink” sewing machine.
One I promptly dissected with the tool kit from under the sink to see how it worked.
There were pictures of me in my Dallas Cowboy “chili-eater” uniform and pom-poms, right next to the one of me trying out Dad’s Golden Gloves gloves and some mini-me trunks. The one over from that is with me and my (male) cousin sitting on our grandfather’s lap with our dolls. He had Wonder Woman; I was Ken that day. That was an awesome Christmas when we both got our “real” Police motorcycles. They didn’t even make a pink one of those, but I wanted a motorbike. (That was also the awesome grandpa who gave his son, in the 50’s, a Tiny Tears doll because said son’s BFF was a little girl who loved dolls.)
Kids like to play – period. They imitate the people they see. That’s how they figure out not to be jerks and steal other people’s stuff. An adult telling a kid they’re playing “wrong” for anything short of potential injury is being a jerk and should go back to Kindergarten where they can learn some manners.
Yeah, you realize this so much more when you have kids. We have all girls and when they were little, we had Barbies, a play-kitchen, baby dolls, a pretend-vacuum…right along with a tool bench, trucks, cars, Legos, swords, Lincoln logs, and a full complement of Rescue Heroes (their favorites were the female characters). We also had a ton of gender neutral stuff like art supplies and Little People and stuffed animals. They played with ALL of it…because…TOYS!
Now that they’re teens, their love of “boy” things like video games and comic books continues…even though they’re also into makeup and Hello Kitty. The idea that girls like one thing and boys like another is ridiculous, but I seemed to constantly hear boy-parents telling me how it’s just “natural” that boys like swords and guns. Oh yeah, so does that make my sword-toting girls unnatural?? It’s so important to counter-push the bullshit they’ll get fed and make sure they can make up their own minds. Expose them to all the fun stuff and let them figure out what they like!
Not only toys, but activities are gender biased. I have 2 boys and 2 girls. Gender roles are not something I think a lot about, because I have always just done what I wanted regardless of societal expectations, and my parents were open to that. But I have sometimes found myself having to defend my children for their choices. My kids are 22, 18, 4, and 9mths. My older 2, 1 boy and 1 girl, both took dance classes and both played hockey. At age 12 my son had to choose between hockey and dance because of scheduling conflicts. He chose dance. He now teaches tap dance to 7-10 year olds, mostly girls, but the studio uses my son as an example to encourage more boys to dance.
Its funny though, the baby classes – 3-6 year old – almost always have at least 1 boy in them. But by age 7 classes are almost exclusively girls. The boys drop out at a predictable age due to peer pressure.
My daughter, on the other hand, only danced because it was something to do. Now she is a key figure on her high school robotics team. She is taking metal shop this year as an elective and plans to take either zoology or forensics at university next year.
I find it equally strange when people either chastise or commend me and my kids for their interests. Why should it be remarkable in any way? Why should it be celebrated any more than condemned? Why can’t it just be accepted for it is?
My little ones will follow the same course as their older siblings. I will put them in dance classes and hockey and music and karate and whatever they express interest in, and they can choose for themselves which ones they like best. Give them a variety of experience and let them decide what they like.