Wednesday, October 01, 2014

Let Toys Be Toys. ALL Toys.

My twitter feeds had several things about toys this morning, and the phenomenon of "girl toys" and "boy toys." I started feeling ranty, and was about to unleash a Twitter rant. Then I realized that my feelings on this phenomenon are more complex than even a long stream of 140 character posts could really capture.

So, since I work for myself now and can decide I'm just going to write a rant instead of starting in on my to do list for the day, here goes.

Like many parents, I hate, absolutely hate, the marketing of some toys as "for boys" and others as "for girls." Toys are for children. OK, and also for grown ups who like to build things. (You should have seen the parents admiring my husband's LEGO AT walker at our last kid/parent party. Yes, it really is his. I gave it to him for Christmas a few years back.)

But I also hate, absolutely hate, the fact that so often we react to the explosion of pink and sparkle on the "girls toys" aisles by disparaging the toys. Or the sparkles and the color pink. There is nothing wrong with kids playing with a toy kitchen or stupid little plastic princess dolls, or with them wanting to explore chemistry by making perfumes. (True story: I once did that last one, but with things I found in the kitchen. I suspect my mom might have preferred I had a kit.)

I get where the instinct to bash those toys comes from. Hell, I agree with a lot of the sentiments behind that instinct. I also hate the way these toys are presented as the only acceptable things for girls to play with. I hate the way people assuming that a toy must be pink and/or sparkly to be of interest to girls is building a world in which that is becoming true.

But I also hate the way our reaction to these toys is telling my little girls that being interested in "girl things" is not as good as being interest in "boy things." I know that most of the world thinks that my older daughter's interest in cheer is less worthy than my younger daughter's interest in soccer, but I will not join them in that. Newsflash: neither interest is going to do much to conquer the problems of the world.

I get why people groan at yet another princess toy... but frankly, I want a princess castle my kids can build and then take apart for storage so badly that I'm trying to design one. (I'm still in the sketch and "ah damn, that won't work" phase.)

And that's just from the girl side. At least it is fairly socially acceptable for my girls to cross the imaginary sparkle line and shop on the "boys toys" aisle. I look at the pressures put on boys to only play with "boy toys" and I almost want to weep for what we're teaching our boys. Most boys we know look down on "girls toys" like dolls and cooking sets as lesser toys. They've already internalized the message that the stereotypical "boy interests" are better. And really, why should that surprise us? We're sending it to them loud and clear. But what does that do to how they view girls? What does it do to the boys who prefer cheer to soccer? What does it do to kids who are starting to suspect that their true gender doesn't match the body they were born with? 

Surely, we can do better, and find a way to fight the pinksplosion and the ridiculous gender segregation in toys without disparaging our children's interests, whatever they may be. I'll join the fight to change the toy aisles, but only if we aim for a world in which a little boy going to choose a toy off the "Princesses" aisle is no more surprising than a little girl choosing one off the "Trains" aisle, and we recognize that both sorts of toys can help build useful skills.

OK, rant over. Now, to that to-do list...


  1. Of course we're just starting to deal with this and I wholeheartedly agree. Having vetoed either the pinksplosion/bluenado tendencies from family, my well meaning loved ones thought to tailor a gift that asked people to tell Little Bean why it was "ok to be a tomboy", in case of a girl.

    I get why they did that - I always was the rough and tumble girl in the family and was never more scowly than when forced into a skirt or frills. BUT. There's nothing wrong w/LB turning out to be a girl who is my polar opposite that enjoys the pink, sparkly, and frilly either! I may not relate but I don't object to *her* choosing it; it would be as silly as objecting to LB being a boy and choosing to like trucks and dirt just on principle.

    My issue is with people imposing a set of expectations within which he/she would be expected to conform for no other reason than "you're a boy/girl." No matter what LB ends up being, and no matter what LB ends up liking, it should be his/her choice, within reason because neither "boy toys" or "girl toys" should be inherently better or less than the other.


  2. Anonymous10:48 AM

    The majority of girl toys that I see given at birthday parties aren't building kits, they're dolls that don't do anything or horses that don't do anything with or make-up kits. Boys get kits and all kinds of puzzles and legos and circuits and games and stuff that does stuff. Even the boy action figures change into other things or shoot and so on.

    Not to say that kids don't need both passive toys and active toys, but the difference between boy toys and girl toys, is, for the most part, more than pink and blue coloring. Especially in the $10-$15/birthday party present range.

    1. That's true, but as you say, the passive toys can be great, too. My kids make up amazing story lines with their dolls. I want all kids to get a range of toys, and for us to stop sending the message that dolls aren't as good as trains. They're both good, in different ways. I think the world would be a better place if boys were encouraged to do the role playing/storytelling play that dolls can spark. Action figures are close, but since they tend to have weapons and come with a war/conflict oriented back story, I doubt they're really encouraging the same sort of play.

    2. Anonymous10:56 AM

      But when girls are getting ALL passive and boys are getting a mix of both, there's something wrong. (And my boy has a TONNE of stuffed animals. Mostly bears. Also dogs, lions, dragons, bunnies, etc. He hasn't lacked in passive toys to play pretend with.)

    3. That said, given where you live... you're probably safe to assume that the girls whose parties you're going to have plenty of passive toys and lean towards the more active ones. Even here in liberal CA we've had the experience of having the LEGO kit we've given as a gift be a girl's first ever LEGO kit, which blows my mind.

      Like I say, I TOTALLY get where the anti-pink crap backlash comes from. I just wish we could have a more nuanced backlash, I guess.

    4. To your second comment- yes, I agree. Both boys and girls should get a mix of both types of toys, and the message that both types of toys are great for both boys and girls to play with.

  3. Anonymous12:44 PM

    Yes. This. The worst thing about it is that I have the impression it is much worse then when I was a kid. At that time for example Lego was gender neutral. (The friends set are an improvement to it being marketed solely to boys I guess, but really? can't it just be for both?)

    My older son loves pink, but now at just 5 he is more and more selfconscious about it and thinks about where he wants to wear it. E.g. he does not want a pink pant for his dancing class, but the pink pyjama is great. The other day he asked me whether there is a color girls are not allowed to have, too. He also used to really love having longish hair, but one day he came home from daycare and asked for " a real boys cut". Then several of his daycare teachers were all over him and kept telling him how great the short hair looks! It made me want to scream.
    Fortunately, both my boys still love and play with their dolls, so at leas this pressure doesn't seem to be too strong yet.
    Sorry, that was very much a rant by itself, you've touched a realls sore spot there.
    To a more gender neutral future.

    1. our son sounds exactly like mine, age 4 and 9 months--likes pink, longish hair, dance class. He also asked me what color girls can't wear, and why boys can't wear dresses but girls can wear pants. Now WHERE on earth did you find pink PJs for a boy? Mine has asked me a million times for pink PJs and there aren't any that don't have some sort of girl-associated writing on them. Also girls stuff is cut differently. I looked and looked for a pink T shirt, but couldn't get a girls because they had flutter or cap sleeves or little frills at the neckline. They don't make gender neutral patterns for clothes anymore.

    2. Anonymous2:23 AM

      This really sounds a lot like my son. I've been wondering how to find other kids like this, I think he would be very happy to have a friend who is similar. You don't happen to live in Germany, do you? Currently his best friend is a total tomboy, she probably has similar issues.
      It's a girls pj. But the cut is neutral and it has a picture of snoopy and the writing says sweet dreams. I buy girls clothes occasionally, right now he is wearing a light turquoise sweater with pink sparkly sweets depicted on them. The sleeves are a bit like cap sleeves but they are not too bad and he doesn't seem to notice. What's more important, noone in daycare seems to say anything about it. I'll also probably try to find dark but sparkly leggins for his dancing class, again from the girls aisle.

    3. Hanna Andersson, Old Navy, and the GAP have pajamas all together (and I think the cuts are all the same) up to about 5T. They seem identical except for what's printed on them and what colors they chose to use.

  4. You've inspired my own rant on the topic. I do feel quite strongly about this. As a mother of two boys, I feel like their options for toys/clothes/interests are limited by 50%, because it is still---even in the liberal urban area we live in---going to get attention if a boy wears hairbows or sparkly pink or carries a princess doll.

  5. Zenmoo4:23 AM

    My daughter has some pink pjs from carter's that have large white polka dots but no writing or frills. It was part of a set that also included grey shorts and a grey tshirt with three pink love hearts that said 'I love you'. I'm pretty sure that sounds like what you might be after? As an aside, my brother went through quite a long phase of wanting to wear a nightie to bed - but he wasn't a fan of pink. Lucky it was back in the day and my Mum found him a blue one with a bunny on the front. He just wanted to be like his sisters!

  6. I agree with this 100%! I understand the princess backlash but there is definitely an unspoken belief that "girly" interests are lesser than boy interests.

    On a similar note, I was toying with the idea of writing why it's "better" to be female instead of focusing on all the cons of living in a male-dominated society. It seems like we always focus on the negatives as in we're victims of violence, which is horrible, but maybe we should be proud (maybe not the right word) that our gender tends to not perpetuate as much violence in society. Or it sucks that women still hit the glass ceiling BUT at the same time, I feel that it's good that women have options in life (work or home or a combination of both) with less stigma. Just food for thought...

  7. I have to buy gifts for a sibling (boy & girl) birthday party coming up and my go-to gift for everyone regardless of gender is Magformers.

    I just noticed they have an "Inspire" set of pink, purple and blue out, which has a pink box and a picture of a girl playing with them and it's labeled as "For Girls" on Amazon (not sure if that's Amazon's addition or part of the Magformers original branding.) That drives me batshit crazy. The "regular" Magformers include bright pink and purple already. There's nothing gendered about the packaging or the things on the booklet that you can build. Why on earth do they need "girl" packaging? Why not just offer it as a different colored set? I really wanted to buy one set of each color for these kids, but can't get over the "this is FOR GIRLS" packaging.

    What if boys like those colors? What if girls like the brighter colors better, but feel like they have to get the "girl" ones (or well-meaning friends and relatives choose those by default).

    THAT is what bugs me - that there is so much pressure for girls to choose the things that are "FOR GIRLS". My house is slowly being engulfed in pink, which I like just fine, but I feel like it's crowding out the other colors and choices.

    I don't think these preferences are showing up in a vacuum. I'm sad to see above that peoples' pink-loving boys are starting to decide not to wear their pink stuff to school - that's the same pressure "causing" the Frozen/princess obsession in my girl.

    So yeah, I do push a little harder to get mine to choose something *other* than pink, or we skip the pink toy aisle entirely, and that may seem to be disparaging, but I really want to show them there are other choices and other things they might like, too.

  8. Yes exactly! I also have boys who love pink and sparkly, especially the youngest one. For a while they had sparkly headbands they wore around. They also love jewelry and ponytails and nail polish. They had little purses too that they carried around with them to put their keys and wallets in. Those things are FUN - dress up is fun, sparkles are awesome, pink and purple are fabulous colors. They shouldn't be denigrated.

    We buy everyone Spot It for birthdays.

  9. We have that! It is pretty good- our set even has a motor- but is too small for building things for Barbie-size dolls. It mostly gets used to build furniture for the crappy cardboard princess castles I've built.

    But overall, it is a good toy. I like it much more than the Goldiblox toys I've seen.


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