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”
I’ve been a house husband. Had to quit my job when our daughter was born because my wife made a lot more than I did and we discovered that it would cost less for me to quit than to pay for daycare for a baby. So until recently, I’ve been Mr. Mom. Thankfully, I’m also an avid home cook and make better meals than some restaurants. It’s a big thing to be a good cook in my family. I never raised our little’n to think anything other than that she can play with or be anything she wants. She LOVES Marvel superheroes. She reads my comics. She likes role-playing games, though not to my extreme. She has a play kitchen and wants to be a chef and a mom and a scientist and, and, and. She plays with dolls and babies, and Monster High (we did special effects for a while…she tagged along…), and has a vet station where she takes care of her stuffed animals. I never want her to be anything other than what she wants to be. She plays with dolls, builds cardboard box cars to play in, watches Buffy and Big Bang Theory (Sheldon and Leonard are her favorite characters) and Doctor Who, and I’m happy with all that. And I will fight for what she wants to be. Because I’m the Dad.
I’m with you on this one dj, I’m a stay at home granddad (my wife and I look after our 10 month old granddaughter 24/7, and the boss makes way more money than I do) and we brought up our kids in exactly the same way. Toys are for playing with, springboards for the imagination, not straight-jackets for tiny minds. I’ll be raising this one in exactly the same way as I did my others, to get the maximum amount of fun from each toy, regardless of what gender the label says its for.
I recently bought a card for my 4-year old goddaughter.
I only found 1 card that a) didn’t feature a princess, or b) wasn’t pink.
That 1 card I found? Had a glittery ballerina on it. That was my “best” option when buying a card for a little girl — a little girl who is not particularly into princesses or pink. It is infuriating that we can’t even get this right with something as simple as a birthday card.
I know. I keep a stash of cards in the cupboard, usually bought months in advance when I see one that I like. The number of times I have started writing in my daughter’s birthday card only to realise that it says “Boy” in it is frustrating. Last year I found the most wonderful singing dinosaur card for her 4th birthday. The look on her face when she open it was priceless, she still occasional brings it out to listen to it…. But I completely overlooked the words “Birthday boy” on the front cover (I was just that excited to find such a cool card). Thankfully she is four and I could get away with covering the word boy with some paper and sticky tape (a little tacky, but she didn’t notice). We had a mild groan as we listened to the song and it definetly sounded like “a great boys birthday” until we realised it was “great fourth birthday”.
It is very frustrating finding birthday cards for girls. I am not asking much, just some animals other than butterflies. A giraffe, or an elephant, or even a lion…. but lions are for boys and butterflies are for girls, and definitely do not go looking for a pirate!!
I couldn’t agree more. Wonderful post as usual.
My 2 1/2 year old boy has long hair and likes the colour pink (all colours really) and dolls and “The Princess and the Frog” and “The Little Mermaid” and would probably marry a truck (if he had that option) or maybe a dinosaur or a monster. I wouldn’t care if he said he wanted to wear a sparkly pink tutu to day care. The other two year olds wont judge they will probably think he is awesome their parents however are another story.
Because of his long hair I often have the following conversation when we are out:
“Oh She’s lovely what’s her name?”
Blank stare. “That’s a boy name.”
“Yes it is. Because she’s a boy.”
I have only been told once that it was time for a hair cut.
It doesn’t bother me that he likes “girly” things as much as he like “boy” things, it does bother his father because he is worried that Seth will get picked on when he gets older.
The influence of TV and the internet are the prime vector for this kind of institutional gendering. Our daughter is two and didn’t watch TV until very recently. We don’t even have a TV in the main part of the house, and she watches carefully chosen programs on Netflix, though she’s been exposed to some princess culture at daycare. That said, she loves and nurtures her babies and cooks for us on her toy kitchen, while wearing both Batman and Wonder Woman t-shirts, when she isn’t fixated on trains, dinosaurs and backhoes. Hopefully she’ll remain unconstrained by gender expectations.
It’s kind of the direction I would have planned for her, but it doesn’t hurt that my spouse has a Ph.D in Women’s and Gender Studies.
I love this post. I worked for the public school system for over 20 years and when they start preschool we encourage the children to play with everything. There are no qualms about boys with dolls and the kitchen or girls with blocks and trucks. This goes on through probably 2nd or 3rd grade, then we start seeing the “separation of the sexes” , so to speak. It is really sad.
My toddler-aged daughter is obsessed with Thomas the Tank Engine. Absolutely obsessed with all things Thomas. She’s got DVDs, books, train sets, the lot. What she doesn’t have is any representation that little girls love Thomas too. One female engine – Emily – who is not available as a battery powered engine, only a boring push along engine with a load of coal. No Thomas t-shirts. No Thomas undies. Very very few episodes in which Emily appears, let alone features. Also, when she does appear, she’s often grumpy.
So I’ve got this conundrum, really. Do I steer my kids away from something she adores, or do I risk her internalising that the role of women in a male dominated environment is to be the support and/or the fun police?
What’s more is her little girl friends also love Thomas. I can’t even imagine what kind of money the Thomas franchise would make if it just bothered to pull its head out of its ass and threw their little girl audience a bone.
I think by not letting her watch it, you pass up the teaching moment. Just makes sure she gets balance. She may not be able to make parallels now, but as she gets older, draw connections to other shows (or books or movies) that empower female roles. Maybe she as a 5, 6 or 7 year old will surprise you? Overall, I think the show has important lessons for a toddler- Using your words, sharing, etc.
I grew up watching Disney Movies (they lay down the gender roles real thick) almost exclusively- but also obsessively watched Bill Nye and this old house. I played with a Barbie or two, but LOVED my telescope. my parents kept it balanced and I was the one who begged and pleaded to play on the BOYS hockey team. They said no- but not because it was the boys team, but because it was expensive. Lol. I settled for softball. Nowadays is say I’m pretty well adjusted and I watch Star Wars and wear lip gloss all at once. I’m happy, and I feel that my parents made good choices. I wasn’t allowed to watch everything but they also didn’t try to forbid me from watching what interested me.
My daughter’s favorite toy when she was a toddler (and before she could walk) was a really ugly big plastic dinosaur. She’s still got that thing 🙂 And I still remember all the weird looks we got from people whenever they saw her gnawing on that thing’s tail and realized she was a little girl, not a boy. In kindergarten, she was that girl with a bunch of boy friends who’d follow her round while she checked under rocks for bugs and stuff. They found her fascinating for some reason. Maybe because she wasn’t at all like their sisters? Anyway, both our kids grew up with Lego and Humdingers and Meccano and assorted dolls and soft toys.
Cut to the teen years; I took both DD and her 15 yo brother to see Frozen over the school holidays. I thought DS would roll his eyes and sleep through it but he enjoyed the hell out of it. Epic win for Disney on that one, BTW. And so great to see my son not at all concerned about his mates finding out he went to a “girly” movie. Now if only we could get more publishers to put out boy-friendly covers on their YAs to encourage more young male readers to give them a try. Just because it’s written by a woman and features a teen female protagonist, doesn’t mean the boys won’t glom onto it given a chance. But they’re far less likely to take a chance if it’s got a girly cover.
When I had my second child we got the elder (a boy) a newborn baby doll and pram. He proudly wheeled it into the maternity ward with ‘his’ baby in it and a woman had a go at him and laughed at him. We were literally in the MATERNITY ward; every guy in there had a baby. He was being a father and all she could see was that he was being feminine somehow. Shake my head.
I didn’t even have any dolls when I was a kid. All my toys were either animals, pokemon, dinosaurs, dragons, or people for the dragons to eat. I also had one of those plastic castles with the walls that you can rearrange. It was bitchin’. The stories I made up for them are what made me fall in love with stories in the first place, and they’re pretty much why I decided to become a writer.
The pink and blue thing doesn’t bother me so much when they’re extremely young, just as a way to tell which gender the kid is, you know? The colors are arbitrary anyways. It used to be the other way around, actually. But when they’re older, hell, let them wear whatever they want.
why does our society think signalling the gender of a small child matters at all tho? what possible useful purpose does color-coding an infant serve? we as a society assume gender matters so much that we need to label our babies. as an adult trans person my gender matters to me NOW but i don’t remember caring about what pronouns people used for me when i was six months old
Why does anyone need to know the gender of a child under the age of two? It’s a baby. The kid doesn’t know what gender is, and has no gender-based interactions. If you’re not buying diapers for the baby, then it’s a BABY. And the parent can dress the kid in any color they want. Nobody should be under any sort of social contract to dress their kids in any color, just to make other people comfortable in the knowledge that they can identify the baby’s gentials by the color of his or her socks.
My three-year-old daughter is *obsessed* with Thomas the Tank Engine. Loves all things Thomas: books, DVDs, puzzles, train sets. She had an almost entirely Thomas-themed birthday last year, because anything Thomas was a sure-fire hit. She builds tracks, moves engines around, organises the car-to-train ratio for hours at a time. She adores it.
There is only one female engine that appears on Thomas with any regularity: Emily. And there’s only about a dozen episodes wherein she appears, and only one book (out of all the books and TV shows) that I’ve seen wherein she features. It’s impossible to get an Emily battery-operated train (those are the good ones), and very difficult to source a push Emily (boring ones). In most of her appearances, Emily is grumpy.
So I’m in a bit of a quandry, really: what do I do with a daughter who is constantly having the message reinforced that women in a male-dominated area are either angry and/or the fun police?
The thing is, every kid I know loves Thomas – boys and girls. But it’s impossible to find ‘girl’ merchandise with Thomas – no t-shirts, no pjs, no undies. I can buy ‘boy’ stuff, but is it too much to ask for an Emily t-shirt? Imagine the money that the Thomas franchise would make if they would, for one second, get its head out of its ass and take a look around.
I am an old Mom Mom. Grew up in the 60s during a time when it was a fresh idea to let kids choose their toys based on their likes, and not their stereotypes. But even before it became a “thing”, my brothers played dolls with me and I played soldiers with them and my parents never discouraged or encouraged what we were playing, they were too busy. I have never come across anyone who cared too much whether my sons or grandsons were pushing a stroller with a doll, or my daughter or grand daughters were playing with cars and trucks or action figures. Never had anyone give any of them a strange look or act like there was something wrong with them based on the toy they chose to play with. (can’t honestly same the same thing about they way they may have been acting at times!) I am trying real hard, but I can’t even remember any of the other parents I knew who worried a whole lot about it either. Men wore a lot of pink in the 60s…..
I had dolls when I was a child, but I was always a little afraid of them. I played with them anyway, because another child in kindergarten told me a horror story about a doll who came to life and killed her family because they didn’t give her enough attention. So I guess technically you could say it was due to peer pressure?
Mostly, my sisters and I would set up a kingdom of all our stuffed animals (the larger stuffed animals had higher rankings, which I find interesting now that I’m an adult and think about such things) and play various stories in that setting. I also liked to play velociraptors versus ponies.
Miranda, You should run with that doll horror story. You lived that terror. Who better to write it down and share it with others? Terri
My favorite toy growing up was a blue Tonka dump truck that had actual hydraulics for the dump. My father, who was blessed with only daughter, bought it for me. My sister got a crane and a bulldozer. We loved the shit out of those trucks.
I also loved dolls, but that truck – it was badass.
[…] reading Chuck Wendig’s post about how toys for boys and toys for girls assume certain gender-roles right from a young age, I […]
Sadly, I’ve screwed my boys up by teaching them that mum is a terrible cook, but if you want an engine worked on, she’s your gal. Also that if you invite someone over, you’d better get dad to do dinner, or if you want something wired up or programmed. My boys are just as likely to roll up a female character in D&D or MegaTraveller as a male one. They are also more likely to hang out with a real live girl than a boy. Sometimes I wonder if they are going to be thought weird when they get to high-school. I think they were screwed anyway, because we live on a sail boat. Might as well pay their membership to the ‘Why-be-normal’ club now.
I used to play with the dictionary and encyclopedias. They were my spell books and I was a witch. I also used to play with dolls and my brother’s ninja turtles or gi joes or transformers or Lego. It was one big toy party. My brother usually stayed away from my girly toys except for the easy bake oven which makes sense because he’s a cook now. He used to make me be goalie and him and my cousin would take slap shots at me.
One of my nephews plays with my old dolls. He loves them. I would totally buy him one of his own if I was certain he wouldn’t get made fun of for it.
it seems to be more okay for girls to do boy stuff than boys to do girl stuff at least where I’m from. Sucks but true.
Back before Christmas, I went looking for a Nightmare Moon (one of the pony’s evil-side) for my son. He adores MLP and the ponies in it. My eldest and I hunted high and low for that thing. It was, apparently, very rare (who knew?). But one day, we were digging through the MLP stuff at Walmart (again) and lo and behold, my eldest found a full set that included Nightmare Moon. We were THRILLED! J jumped up and said, “Patrick is going to be SO HAPPY that we found it for him.”
And, of course, the three women in the aisle turned to look. J waded through the toy battlefield to the cart we’d left at the end of the aisle and I turned to look a little further for anything else. The “ladies” (I use that term loosely) must have thought I’d left, too, because one turned to another and said, “Can you *believe* that? She bought it for a *boy*?” And her companion shook her head and said, “No. That poor kid can’t be happy about that.”
I stepped up to the “ladies” and smiled winningly. “Actually, he’ll be thrilled. And he’s quite happy. Since I don’t waste my time insulting other parents’ parenting decisions, I have time to play with the ponies with him.” And walked away. I have to admit I loved the shock I saw on their faces as I turned the corner and left.
It never ceases to amaze me how ridiculous people can be. My youngest is homeschooled. He spent an entire school year getting bullied by not only other students, but by his teachers, as well. And that was before he owned a Nightmare Moon. I can’t imagine what it would have been like after.
Another winner, Chuck. I’m definitely bookmarking this for when the “it’s just biology” people I run into regularly. The fact that I actually study and teach biology never seems to make much of an impression.
Fantastic post, Chuck. I nodded the whole way through. I have no problem with boys and girls who like the same things society “says” their gender “should” like – and no problem with those who want the opposite, or some combination of the two. I’m grateful, however, that I grew up in a home where the question was “what do you like?” and not “why do you like THAT” or “aren’t you more fond of THIS?”
I ran wild with the boys on the street in my neighborhood, and kept up with them on my bike – which was purple, with a big-ass lavender banana seat and NO dangly things on the handlebars (I hated them, so my mom gave me scissors and let me cut them off, yo). Purple bike, YES. Girly streamers? NO. And my parents were ok with that.
I played baseball (not softball), rode horses, played with barbies (though mainly only because someone needed to ride those breyer horses I collected), and made both regular pies and mud pies with equal zest. I can sail a ship, use a telescope and a microscope, and sew a mean seam (by hand – sewing machines confuse the hell out of me).
All of which is to say: I’m a combination of pink and blue (probably why I like purple so much) and though I lean much farther toward martial arts than pretty dresses, I’m comfortable in my skin – largely because the people around me loved and supported me instead of telling me what they wanted me to be. I try to raise my son the same way. I hope I’m succeeding. Thank you for taking a stand on this. The more we talk about it, hopefully the fewer kids will think loving my little pony is a crime, regardless of gender.
Do you want to know why the pink Lego box exists? it’s not because the child wants to buy it more than the Yellow box it’s because the mommy/daddy wants to buy her/his princess a pink box. Lego Creator Sets are all gender neutral (the orange Horizon Express train has a female train driver! oh gosh!) but Adults still don’t buy them for girls. Lego want both girls and boys to play with blocks (why wouldn’t they!), the only way to get building blocks into young girls hands is to make the box pink to keep mommy/daddy happy. That is why Pink Lego exists. Because Lego don’t want girls to miss out on building blocks. Its well known that Lego were unhappy having to make the friends figures instead of the classic minifig. but sacrifices had to be made to keep the customer(Mommy/Daddy) buying building blocks for all children… So what, if the box is pink? Lego did make tree houses and science workshops in those pink boxes! there is a question of whether they should make police cars and fire engines in pink boxes too, but that would result in a conflict with the Lego City range – a range that is technically gender neutral, but because it’s not pink, is seen by adults as the boys range.
In the Lego case the problem is not with the company, it is with the consumer. Lego want to sell as much as possible to everyone, yet gender neutral yellow boxes have limited their market appeal.
I am horrified by the poor pink microscope and telescope linked in the article.. that is definitely a problem with the companies making and selling those products!
Why not just buy her one with a monster on?
You could go to the pink aisle, find a barbie doll about the size of those transformer dolls and another helicopter and just tell your son that that’s the female character Dani from the show 😛
Interestingly, blue used to be a girl color and pink a boy color. (Because blue is sort of frail and pink is ALMOST red, which is the color of FIRE and ACTION.)
Check this short film out: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=CnOJgDW0gPI
I want to punch that “girl Lego” commercial in the throat every time it comes on. Those aren’t Legos. Sorry. They’re not.
My boy is 11… and has beautifully long hair… which he wants cut off. While I think some of it is because it’s just time for change, I think a lot of it has to do with ADULTS saying that he’s my daughter. I think he’s just tired of having to say “son” or “I’m a boy”. Kind of makes me sad. I hope one day he’ll regrow if he’s comfortable enough.
My Little Pony also has a welcomed spot into our home… of all boys (Not me. That show makes me nuts… the Equestrian Girls movie was okay though.)
Even adults continue to be subjected to these gender norms. Just look at window displays for Mothers’ and Fathers’ Day.
When I found out I was having a girl, everyone gave me pink clothes and dolls. I was a total tomboy as a kid, so I vowed to make sure she wasn’t dressed in pink all the time and had lots of boy toys, too.
Now, she’s three, and she dresses herself in pink, changing outfits 2-3 times a day, constantly twirls like a ballerina, and carries a doll with her wherever she goes. She is the exact stereotypical girl, even though I’ve made sure she knows that she can wear other colors and play with boy toys.
It’s so funny the things your children will do just to spite you.
I think the problem is not us, but the society around us. I wish I had the money to home school my kids because my daughter was fully willing to wear jeans and lots of different colors till she started kindergarten. We have a picture of her in jeans and a tanktop and a pink ballcap with her tool belt as a toddler. All it took was one kid to say, “You look like a boy” and all of a sudden, she doesn’t wear pants anymore. Skirts. All the time. The only time I force the issue is when it’s 40 degrees out. I recall the day a little boy told her she couldn’t wear her black Darth Vader t-shirt because she was a girl and girls don’t wear black. (I told her the kid had obviously never heard of the little black dress and women wear black all the time.) It seems like you can’t get away from it. Princesses are everywhere. On the diapers we put on our girls. ON DIAPERS.
When my friend brought their son over to go trick or treating and he was dressed as a princess, the kids made little note of it. He was dressed up. But the adults at our house freaked out, whispering, “Is he a boy or a girl?” My 4 year old (son) loves tackling his friend. He loves gymnastics and soccer and throwing balls and jumping on everything and loves Frozen and singing “Let It Go.” I’m nervous about what will happen in Kindergarten. I have pictures of him dressed up as Snow White that people tell me to not post on FB. But if my daughter dresses as a stormtrooper or fire fighter or a police officer (beating up her brother) there’s no problem if anyone sees those pictures.
I wish I could control their surroundings and society more.
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I want to give you a standing ovation. All of this.
This BS drives me so nuts. My boy plays with dolls, watches My Little Pony (so do we his parents, but whatever), plays with kitchen stuff, and really likes the color purple. He also loves trucks, Curious George, the color blue, sword-like things, and any sort of building blocks. Because all those things are awesome. But I’m constantly afraid some stranger (or worse yet a relative) is going to start questioning his enjoyment of those first group of things and force me to get up in their face about it and I HATE in person confrontations. So, yea, I wish the world would quit trying to send toxic signals about gender binaries and the solidity of the line of demarcation to my baby.
What can I say except thank you? You said it all, and very well – except, perhaps, a call to action. Perhaps those of us who think that toy kitchens and vacuums need not be pink, should all be writing letters to LEGO and Playskool and Fisher-Price Little Tikes and demanding that items be unisex in color, packaging, and marketing.
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Lego doesn’t have a “pink” line because mommy and daddy wanted them and the yellow ones weren’t selling. The yellow ones sell like houses. Lego has a pink line because it’s an extra toy line, giving them more shelf space, dominance of the market and they can charge more for them as special Lego sets. Collectors will buy them in addition to the regular lines. The entire “girls” sections of the toy stores only appeared because toy companies twigged that creating “girl version” toys let them repackage toys and mark them up, taking up more shelf space and visually dominating. If you didn’t do a pink line, other companies would and then they’d crowd you out, so everybody did one.
It has been the enormous backlash from parents that has now caused many stores and toy stores to start de-gendering their store layouts and organize them solely by theme of the toy, rather than girl-boy, and causing the toy companies to be a bit better in their advertising and catalogs. But it’s still very profitable to have extra “girl lines” just as it is to have tie-in merchandise lines, like Batman Legos, etc. You’re not going to get rid of the pink — they will always have a pink option in the spectrum of colors for toys. What parents and others can do is put pressure on the toy companies to stop labeling those toys “girl” toys. And when homophobia declines, because all of the gendering training is the idea that boys must not resemble girls, who are lesser. The girls’ toys are the extra, lesser option, the boys get the regular.
By painting toys pink and labeling them girl toys, with the stigma attached to girl things, toy companies actually decrease potential sales on toys marketed mainly to girls. By discouraging girls from science toys, action figures, etc., toy companies lose sales. But in the short run, they practice specialization for greater spread in the stores.
Great post. This is my recurring lament every time we go into “that” toy store!!!
[…] you’re sharing my rage over gender bias in the toy industry, you should check out Chuck Wendig’s post on the subject. Be warned: he uses bad words that do not appear on my blog. But he’s also […]
With you all the way on this one. My boy is 5. He likes pink and purple and I let him.
[…] Boy toys, girl toys and other cuckoopants gender assumptions by one of my favs, Chuck Wendig. […]
When my son was three, his aunt told him that he couldn’t use his “He-man” figures to play in an elaborate large dollhouse owned by his grandmother. She told him “boys play with boy toys; girls play with girl toys.” So I taught him to say “that’s sexist propanda!” at age 3. When he was five, his best friend had a birthday party for their son but didn’t allow the daughter to attend because it was for boys. My son, of course, chanted, “that’s sexist propaganda!” and they let the sister tag along with our daughter. When he was ten, he wanted an earring, and we told him he could have one with the majority of the boys in his class had one (it taught him percentages very well – every semester!); however, when he was 14 and his sister was 10 and SHE wanted an earring, my words came back to bite me – when I thought about getting her earrings, he piped up with “it’s sexist propaganda” because the majority of boys still didn’t have earrings. Needless to say, they both went to the mall for earrings that weekend.
I agree with many of the statements that it is society that dictates the rule of pink and blue – not children. Children will play with anything if you allow them. My little boy had a blue boy doll that he cuddled and fed and diapered – he’s now a great father and able to rough-house with the kids or comfort them when they need it. Society is too homophobic to really allow males to wear pink or play with dolls or do anything else “girly” – it needs to stop!
I was never very girly growing up despite how hard my mom tried to put me in dresses. By the time I got to high school and had my whole head-to-toe black phase and preferred jeans she was rather distraught. But growing up as an only child, I had an incredible menagerie of toys to play with. I had stuffed animals oozing out of my nose. I also LOVED by Transformers. I had Barbies and Matchbox cars. I had a tea set and and dinosaurs. I colored in blood on the teeth of the T-Rex and shaved my Barbies’ heads. I read The Baby-sitters Club and Goosebumps. I loved reading about the Titanic and Charlie Chaplin and I could tell you how to mummify a corpse by the time I was 8. Despite my mom’s want of a girly princess (that’s a bit hyperbole, she wanted me to take after her and she is more girly but, much to her chagrin, I’m far more my father’s daughter in jeans and t-shirts) gendering didn’t reflect itself in my toys. There was never any ‘you can’t have THAT, have THIS instead.’ They didn’t discourage me from playing Duck Hunt; they played it with me. I just don’t understand this need to reinforce gender “norms.” I didn’t magically grow a dick while I played with Transformers. And the boy wit whom I played with didn’t have a gender crisis from playing with Barbies. PARENTS need to stop drawing the dividing line. It was such a non-issue for me growing up that I can’t even get my head around it now.
YES. Thank you so much for this.
Overall great article. BTW I was a girl who bought ‘boy’ toys in secret too and it was in the ’90s
You might be interested in the Let Toys Be Toys campaign in the UK: http://www.lettoysbetoys.org.uk
This is why I moved lego friends to the “boy” lego aisle and lego movie, star wars and city items to the pink lego aisle at a store today….I say we start a trend….maybe when employees get sick of moving them back someone will get the hint that all legos should live together….and I’d love to get rid of the anorexic looking lego figures
If I could marry this post, I would.
I actually had to check my computer to make sure I had not written this in my sleep.
I do think that there are biological differences between men and women that impact their behavior, but it’s unclear to what degree (even person to person, case to case) and the exaggeration that they’re subject to in the name of maintaining cultural expectations is destructive to the point that it’s better to avoid the abstracts, and let kids (and adults) play with what they want to play with and be who they want to be.
All of us cooked dinner starting at age 10 in my house, and one of my Mom’s stories is of how much trouble she had finding a kid’s cookbook with a picture of a little boy on it… anywhere. In the end, she found one written from a little girl’s perspective, but at least there was a little boy on the cover. I still have that book, so if anyone wants to come to my place for spaghetti where one of the ingredients is “a can of spaghetti and sauce” you’re welcome!
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I have a 14 year old. Had a 22 year old, he died last year. So I’ve been through everything from my own Barbie v Sindy v Actionman or GI joe. I’ve been through the detestable Barney kids, sorry young actors, I know you were just doing your job. I’ve been through what do I do to not let my boys turn into testosterone driven beasts! My older son, my first, I banned gun toys, for as long as I could, not because I object to guns in their correct context, but more that I did not want his first adrenaline/exitement/hero moments to be associated with them. That lasted about three years. 🙂 He, like me, turned out to be fascinated with them, but in the sense of them being a wonderful piece of enginering. I cheered inside! 🙂 My younger son has a similar attitude. Life is for all, be you yellow, green, blue or girly! Both learned to love cooking early, both were introduced to a keen sense of style, rather than fashion, at an early age. Both learned early that it is the heart and soul of the person, not the details, that matter. Both are/were two of the most wonderful peole I have ever had the privelidge of being associated with. Regular contacts with the local constabulary and snotty phonecalls from school, notwithstanding. 🙂
My daughter is 4 and we’ve tried to keep her toy choices gender-neutral – letting her go round the toy store and tell us what she wants rather than us steering her towards a particular section. Her preference is definitely for the girly stuff – she loves Disney Princesses, MLP and Doc McStuffins – but she makes me proud because she also likes Spiderman, Iron Man and the Daleks. My hubby and I are larpers so she’s also grown up with larp swords and nerf guns – she’s a crack shot and can beat us both in a sword fight!
When my eldest son was 3, he had soft curls in his not particularly long hair. Even in jeans and a t-shirt, people would walk up to me in public and tell me, “What a pretty girl.” When I told them he was a boy, the answer was inevitably, “He’s too pretty to be a boy.” Right there in front of him. It was infuriating. How dare these people tell my son that there was something intrinsically wrong with him, just because he was good looking.
He loved trucks, building blocks, music, and finger painting. He loved stuffed animals and My Little Pony, and he wasn’t terribly enthusiastic about the baby doll I bought for him, but he didn’t hate it either. When I baby sat fora 4-year-old girl, the two would go through the old box of costumes I provided, many of them from my own and my brothers’ childhood, and play dress-up. A favorite game the two played, Jungle Girls, was initiated by the girl, but both were enthusiastic participants and ran through the house in skirts.
Years later, I think he was about 8, my son told me that it wasn’t fair that boys didn’t get to wear skirts, while girls could wear either pants or skirts. I agreed. He asked what would happen if he wore skirts. I told him that it would be hard because many people would be mean about it, but that if that’s what he wanted to do, I’d support his decision. He decided he didn’t want the hassle. But, years later, two of his younger siblings (by that time young men in their late teens), experimented with skirts and kilts, while one is in the cast of the local Rocky Horror Picture show.
My sons are wonderful, creative, hard-working men who know that being human is a lot more important than what flavor of masculinity they happen to express. Oh, and every single man in my family can cook. Most of them, better than I can. I love them all.
There’s a classic experiment where a class of nurses were asked to observe a room full of babies and record which ones behaved more “actively” and “positively” and which were more “passive”. Without exception they classed the ones in pink as less “active” than the ones in blue. You guessed: the babies had been dressed at random, regardless of sex.
I love this post so much.
On a kinda-positive note, I was looking for a gift for my friend’s 3-year old girl this month and stumbled into Target’s B.Toys section. Not 100% gender-bending, but a good and refreshing sight. Not a lot of pink, and all kinds of professions represented: http://www.target.com/bp/b.toys
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