Wednesday, December 28, 2011

Toying With Gender

Sometimes I am freaked out by the weird convergence of events.  Lego launched a new line of toys (which are more pastel, more feminine, more nauseating than the regular Lego line of toys) in an attempt to attract girls. Last week a friend posted a link to this blog post (you should read it, I'll wait, it's that good) about a teacher working on preventing bullying based on a child's gender, and then at Christmas with my wife's family her aunt noted that her son (age 4.5 years) will not play with, and hates, "girl's toys."  I was struck by his vehemence about what he perceives to be "girl's toys" and how they are not something he would even want to be around, let alone deign to play with.  I was also struck by the casual approach his parents took, simply noting that he is "all boy" or something equally ridiculous, as if it were an excuse for him to act this way, and the lack of any understanding that his behavior might have an effect on our daughter. 
I have noticed, among parents at play groups, the assertion that their sons are "all boy" or "he's just a boy" when the child does something rough, violent, or loud.  I find it galling that, even at such a young age, parents are condoning and approving of behavior that, if it were done by a girl, would be seen as unladylike or unacceptable.  Boys are not allowed to be gentle or nurturing and girls are not supposed to be loud and boisterous.  I encountered one mother who lamented the fact that her husband would not allow their son (nine months old at the time) to have a doll to play with despite the fact he wanted one.  The way we shape our children's notions of gender are profound and terrifying.  The information they receive from us has a powerful effect on them which is both wonderfully empowering and paralyzingly frightening.

I wondered aloud where this boy had gotten his idea that there are boys' toys and girls' toys and my wife astutely noted that he watches television and movies and our daughter watches very limited amounts of each (usually sesame street only with few exceptions).  The commercials for children's toys are so split along gender lines that it becomes clear rapidly how a child could get the idea that dolls are for girls and trucks for boys.  It is a source of pride for me that our daughter is equally fascinated with her baby dolls and with buses, trucks, tractors, and firefighters.

This girl has it down:

I empathize with Allie, the child discussed in the blog post.  I was often mistaken for a boy as a child (and even later in life).  I was told I was in the "wrong bathroom kid" innumerable times.  Each time I felt terrible, angry, upset, and like there was something wrong with me.  I played with G.I. Joe's and Cabbage Patch kids.  I was lucky to have parents who let me be myself and never gave me the message that there was something wrong with me liking sports and boys' clothes.  They worked with me and found dress up outfits that weren't dresses.  They couldn't, however, keep me from experiencing hurtful remarks, looks, and comments from the rest of the world.  This is something I find disheartening.  I know I can't stop my kids from hearing ridiculous comments, even from their relatives, about boy toys and girl toys, or for them receiving gifts that skew one way or the other.  I can hope that they have a teacher like Ms. Melissa who makes the effort to be sure that her class understand that gender is flexible and that being different is okay.  I know my kids have two parents who feel strongly that they should be themselves regardless of what the world expects from them, I just hope the rest of the world catches up soon.


  1. Great post. I love this particular ad. I love that the young girl is in her overalls and braids and not overly stylized as a pink princess, as is the norm in today's marketplace geared toward kids. The fact that the gender lines are so starkly represented 30 some years later boggles my mind.

    My son got a kitchen set for Christmas because he is obsessed with the one owned by my friend's daughter. Yes, I got comments. It's very tiring. I honestly don't even know how to respond because I am not sure what damage plastic pots and pans could do to him.

    You are very right about the double standard for boys as well. Another issue that tires me. I hear the "he's all boy" when he climbs about and makes messes. I just try to smile and say "especially when he runs into my arms for hugs and kisses or cuddles his baby doll until he falls asleep".

  2. Not sure if you saw this but it is sort of a followup as well...