A little over a year ago I had a daughter and I became a feminist. OK, in truth I’ve been a feminist all my life. But I’ve been lax at times, indifferent at others, and sometimes I let the politics of the word (“feminist”) cloud the issue. But as soon as I knew there was a girl growing inside of me, I started becoming fierce.
This newfound feminism takes many forms, some of which I’ve already mentioned. (Toddlers & Tiaras? Kill me. NFL Cheerleaders? Stay away from my daughter. The Girl Effect and microfinance to women? Yes indeed.) But right now I’m focused on the issue of sexist toys. Last night I came across this article about stores that separate their toys by gender: doctors uniforms for boys and nurse uniforms for girls. Because god forbid a little girl wants to be a doctor – learn your place! (Or the corollary: your boy wants to be a nurse? Not on my watch!)
Even though the article was the catalyst for this post, it isn’t really news to me. I hate when I walk into the toy department at Target and one entire aisle is all pink. It’s not that I have a problem with pink, per se – hell, I dress Adeline in pink a lot and her room is done in pink. I think it’s cute. What I have a problem with is the idea that pink is the only thing that girls like. And the dolls in that aisle are utterly disgusting. Call me a crazy feminist if you will (seriously, call me that!), but I’m going to avoid buying Adeline barbies as long as I can. Hello, body image issues.
I was at a holiday party over the weekend at a friend’s house. She has two little girls and in the kitchen she has a little play kitchen for them. It’s really cute and the kids were all having so much fun playing with it. My initial reaction was, “Oh man, I’m going to have to get one of these for Addie.” And then my inner feminist reared her head: “Seriously, you’re going to give her a kitchen? Is that all she’s good for?? Why not get her that play tool set or a train set instead?” The thing is, I know Adeline would love the kitchen. Mostly because she’d be able to imitate mommy. (And yes, I see the irony here: as a stay-at-home mom all I can model right now are stereotypical gender roles. More on that dilemma in a future post.) But even if she would have fun with it, I just don’t think I can do it.
And think about this: how many parents would buy a kitchen for their son? The gender stereotyping goes both ways. It’s totally fine to buy “boy” stuff for your daughter – I dress Addie in boy clothes a lot and no one thinks twice if she plays with dinosaur figurines or trucks. It’s ok for girls to be like boys because people (secretly and without admitting it even to themselves) think boys are better. But parents don’t buy the kitchens, the pink clothes, the barbies, or the nurse uniforms for their sons. Is it because girls are inferior and they don’t want their boys to be girly? Or are they just afraid too much girl stuff might turn a boy gay? (Because that would, apparently, be the worst possible outcome.)
Whatever the reason, this much is clear: our retailers, at least, think that certain toys are appropriate for girls and other toys are only for boys. And if you want your daughter to have the doctor’s outfit, that’s ok, but she’ll know it’s from the boy’s department. And no matter how you try to shield her, she’ll get the message: “boys are better.”
Adeline in "boy" PJs playing with her truck