Boyfriend’s sister and her hubby are visiting from Italy. They’ve brought with them their precocious toddler and have another baby on the way besides, so before meeting up for a Saturday of pumpkin picking we stopped to do some toy shopping. I’ll preface this by saying that while I have stepsisters around my age I spent my first 13 years as an only child. I don’t have any young cousins, I never really babysat, and my understanding of small children stops at which end is up.
Babies terrify me. They’re small, squirmy, and delicate, and are incapable of communicating their needs in a way I can understand. Plus they always belong to someone else, and that’s a level of pressure I’m disinclined to deal with. I held a baby for the first time at 26, and it was this baby, the week of her baptism, at the barbecue that followed the ceremony. I’d been drinking PBR all day and hoping no one would notice my idea of interacting with her was to wave from a safe distance. Then suddenly her father plunks her in my lap and there was a tense moment when we just evaluated one another before someone mercifully took her back. Saying I’m awkward around babies might be the understatement of the century. Most of them are loud and smell kind of funny, so I avoid them when I’m able.
This one, though… this one is pretty cool. She’s happy, smart, curious, doesn’t scream, and speaks Italian. In the 10 months since I saw her last, she’s become a tiny little person that can be reasoned with, and I think that’s neat. My ineptitude with children aside, though, it had been 10 months and toys were warranted. Boyfriend and I wandered up and down toy aisles, having been told she likes playdoh and crafts and etch-a-sketch. Between that and the ages marked on products we had little trouble. Until he grabbed my shoulders and turned me to face a wall awash in pinks and lavenders. While I had been marveling at easy-bake oven advancements since my girlhood, he had discovered that toy makers want to encourage little girls to get out of the kitchen.
…and into any room that needs sweeping or vacuuming!
Having ruminated on this for a few days I can grudgingly concede that getting any child to help with the house chores is probably a boon, but at the time as I was faced with a row of pink and lilac brooms with matching dust pans and pint-sized vacuums all I knew was rage. I almost took a picture to blog about it, then I told myself to calm the fuck down. Turns out I couldn’t shake it from my thoughts so easily.
Without a photo I turned to the internet and a google search for “girl toys” showed the 2nd result was an iron. The first two pages broaden the scope to include the accompanying ironing board, a makeup vanity, and an assortment of dolls, all awash in girly colors. Now I won’t lie; while as a child I didn’t own a ‘baby doll’ and didn’t play mommy (explains a lot maybe) I did love my easy bake oven (also explains a lot maybe) and helping my parents cook. My favorite toys from childhood? Board games, lite brite, playdoh, books, and Nintendo. I watched Disney movies but never wanted a princess costume because I wanted to be Star from The Lost Boys (not exactly a healthy female role model but look at that hair, that style, that badass-mullet-wearing-motorcycle-having-vampire-boyfriend!).
When I was growing up it was all the rage for Barbie to be a veterinarian or doctor or astronaut, but now according to Mattel’s website, Barbie’s “career of the year” is fashion designer (because Architect and President Barbies are much less interesting I guess). Still, even Fashion Designer Barbie is losing shelf space to Bratz dolls.
Anyway, as a parent, how do you combat the overwhelming reinforcement of harmful gender stereotypes and keep them from limiting your children? While I don’t agree with making all girl toys pink and purple, where are the hot pink stethoscopes and race cars and construction belts? Where are the slick blue steel Easy Bake ovens and kitchen playsets and vacuums for boys to learn necessary household tasks? Are we creating a generation of functionally inept men and women who are too consumed with superficial appearance and fantasy warfare to transition to independent adulthood? A March 2012 article in Philadelphia Magazine entitled “The Sorry Lives and Confusing Times of Today’s Young Men” has charted developmental regressions of men in their 20s and 30s. Rather than fixing this problem, is the current plan to dumb women down to match their unambitious male counterparts?