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One of the most fun parts of parenting is becoming proficient in all the stuff each of my kids thinks is cool. Winchie is very clear about his likes and dislikes. He likes trains, trucks, cars, baseballs, basketballs, and soccer balls. He also likes to dig holes in the back yard. That’s pretty much it. He loves to jump and run around, but will sit and read a book, too, provided the subject matter is something from his list of likes. Oh, and he also likes to build huge Lego towers only so he can stomp on them or crash one of his many wheeled toys into them. He loves his sister and his parents and we love him back. That’s all he needs to know. Give him a Thomas toy, toast with peanut butter on it and a lap to sit on when he wants it, and he’s the happiest camper in the universe.
I’m totally comfortable letting him engage in typically-boy activities like playing sports and crashing toy trucks into things because these activities bring him obvious joy and satisfaction. And I’m always more than happy to indulge him when he wants to engage in typically-girl things like playing with dolls or putting on lipstick. He’s open-minded and willing to try anything that looks like fun to him. He’s curious, but uncomplicated. What a great kid!
When it comes to my daughter, though, things are a little different. Of course, she is also a fantastic kid in my humble opinion, but she’s much more complex than her brother—or maybe it‘s just my relationship with her that‘s more complex. I’ll admit that I have the usual parental dreams of her turning out to be a little version of me (minus my insecurities and hang-ups, of course). So while I’m more than happy to let Winchie play with his trains and dig up the garden, I find it much harder to hold my tongue when Squeaky wants to do something that falls under the umbrella of “girl stuff.”
For instance, as those who know me well can attest, my everyday uniform consists of black, black, and more black, silver jewelry, chunky shoes (black, of course) and, now that I’m a mom, an industrial-sized canvas tote bag for all of the essentials like stuffed animals, blankies, and extra diapers. I wear so much black, in fact, that my husband will occasionally refer to me as Morticia and is visibly shocked when I wear anything in another color. I don’t do it because I miss the heyday of Wax Trax! or harbor secret vampire fantasies. Rather, I do it because I’m the laziest person on earth. Black matches everything and I don’t have to spend ten years searching my closet for something to wear. Oh, yeah, and I look good in black—all of us dark haired, dark eyed, olive skinned girls do.
Then there’s my daughter. She LOVES frilly, puffy, sparkly pink clothing. If it’s not entirely pink or has pink on it somewhere, she won’t wear it. Because she’s only 2.5 years old, she doesn’t yet know that tiaras exist, but if she did, she’d want to wear one around the house at all times and expect her subjects to genuflect accordingly. Her best friend is a stuffed pink bunny named Pink, when she grows up, she wants to be “a mommy,” and she loves playing with the kitchen set at preschool.
I’ll be honest. All of this makes me want to gag. And, so help me, the day she asks for a Baby Alive doll or Easy Bake oven, I will need to strength of 1,000 Hoover Dams to hold back the verbal condemnation of such hyper-gendered products. Yet, on the same token, I have no problem buying entire train sets and various sport-related toys for my son.
It’s like I’m living in one of those Frosted Mini Wheats commercials. The feminist adult in me wants to destroy all Easy Bake ovens, princess-themed toys, and anything that comes in both a blue version (for boys) and a pink version (for girls). If it appears in that Pepto Bismol colored aisle in the toy store, I’d like to take a blowtorch to it. I know toys are supposed to be all about escapist fantasies, but Bratz dolls? Really? I’d much prefer my daughter pretend to be a construction worker or a doctor or a rabbit than an empty-headed, materialistic, boy-crazy prostitot.
On the other hand, the kid in me knows Squeaky hasn’t read feminist theory and likes frilly, sparkly girlie stuff simply because she likes it. I didn’t teach her to like pink. She has always liked it. I didn’t teach her to like baby dolls. She just does. When my grandmother bought me a baby doll when I was three, I took one look at it and told her to give it to my cousin Jimmy. I wanted a Dukes of Hazzard guitar! When my mom bought Squeaky a baby doll, her face it up, she hugged it tightly, and asked for another one so her baby wouldn’t be lonely. She likes dolls and inwardly, I seethe. Her brother likes trucks, and I’m all for it.
So what’s a mom to do? In private, I throw up my hands and wonder aloud what planet my daughter came from. In public, I talk to my friends who also have kids and ask if they are as bothered by this gendered-toy dichotomy as I am. As one of them (a very intelligent and doting father of an adorable girl) recently pointed out, the problem isn’t with the products themselves, it’s with telling girls that they don’t have a choice and that cooking and childrearing are their only options in life. They can play with that stuff as long as they know it’s not a death sentence. As adults, they will have other options.
Of course, he’s right. These kinds of toys are only one avenue of many available for girls to explore. This may just be a passing phase for my daughter en route to another set of likes and dislikes My hope is that when Squeaky grows up, she will have even more avenues to choose from than those available to me or my mom. Fortunately, society seems to be moving in that direction, it just isn’t reflected in the toy aisle—yet.
And no, it hasn’t escaped me that I am a homemaker, so I shouldn’t be shocked when Squeaky asks for kitchen-related toys because she sees me cooking something everyday. My days consist of adult versions of the Easy Bake oven and child-sized dolls. But I don’t revel in it the way my daughter does and perhaps that’s the source of my ire. I did, however, choose this life (for now), and I know that it is temporary. Once the kids go to school full time, I plan on devoting more time to the business that I am just now starting up. (It would be off and running if I only had more time…) So I am definitely one of the beneficiaries of societal changes wrought by First- and Second-Wave feminists. I made a choice to stay home and I still have the option to work when I want to, how I want to.
But all that doesn’t stop my blood from boiling at Target when I see the face of a smiling little boy on a Doctor toy set (in a red and white box) on the shelf above the face of a smiling little girl on a Baby Care toy set (in a pink box). Yes, I can tell my daughter she has choices, but how can she believe it when faced with an option like this in the toy aisle? As a kid, I decided to reject all things pink and frilly when selecting my preferred toys and maybe that will be Squeaky’s decision as well. A mom can dream. Until then, I’m off to write a flame latter to Fisher Price, creator and distributor of the previously-mentioned toys on the Target shelf. I mean, really. How difficult would it be to use a picture of two kids—a boy and a girl—to sell both products?
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