(Why #ThrowbackThursday? Because this post originally appeared on my previous blog www.grrrlwithboys.blogspot.com on March 3, 2013. It’s now December and we’re officially in the holiday shopping season. I imagine many other feminist parents are grappling with what to buy that won’t heap more of the same tired and oppressive stereotypes on their kids.)
Yesterday I took my oldest son Jackson who is almost 4 years old to Toys R’ Us. I had promised him that if he was good all week that I would get him some “Mighty Beans” that he had seen on Youtube. More on my Ok-ness with a little bribery every now and then later. Jackson has gotten very good at using an iPad and we let him watch child-appropriate videos on Youtube. He discovered these “Mighty Beans” while watching Toy Story videos. In the store we walked around looking at all the toys trying to find these tiny beans in a sea of colors and catchy names. Finally an employee asked me if we were finding everything ok. I told him what we were looking for and he easily directed me to them. The themes for these beans that they had in the store were Cars, Spider Man and Darth Vader. I guess Mighty Beans aren’t advertised to girls. The name should have been a dead give away. When was the last time you saw a toy for girls that referred to it as “mighty”.
Anyway, he had seen the Cars beans so he quickly picked those out. Since he was behaving himself I decided that we would walk around so I could get ideas for presents for his birthday. We went to the closest isle and were immediately engulfed in a sea of pink. Pink dresses, pink dolls, pink kitchen sets, pink cleaning toys, and so on and so forth. I thought he might get excited seeing as how his favorite color is pink and he was wearing his hot pink hat that his Poppa crocheted for him. I said “Look at all these toys, Jackson!” I near ’bout fell on the floor when he said “those are all girl toys”. Gasp! I gathered myself before he noticed my reaction and said “What did you say honey?”. “Those are girl toys, Mommy” he said. “Why are those girl toys?” I asked. “Those are girl toys because they are the toys that girls like” he explained. “Oh really, who told you that?” I asked. “Miss Sue and Miss Laura and Miss Amy” he said, not catching on to where I was going with our conversation. “Well, that’s silly! Toys are for everybody! You can play with any toy you’d like. You don’t have to be a girl to play with any of these toys and there aren’t toys that are just for boys. Did you know that, Jackson? Toys are for everybody!” I explained. “Oh! Yeah!” he said with no irony in his voice.
I was disturbed. My precious child whom I had raised having access to all kinds of toys and colors was being brainwashed by the teachers at his preschool. This preschool had assured me that his love of the color pink would be supported. When I told her we didn’t follow strict gender roles I was told that they once had a male student who wore dresses to school and he was supported. I’m thinking I need to have a conversation with Miss Sue. He certainly didn’t get this nonsense from me or my husband or any of our family members that babysit him and his little brother. I’m going to have to turn on my Southern charm so I don’t piss her off (even though I am pissed that this has been going on) and have to find another preschool for Jackson. I’m hoping that once they are reminded that my child is able to play with any toy he wants and no child should be limited on what toys they can play with based on what’s between their legs they will stop filling his head with non-sense.
Having watched my children grow I have seen how if you give them all the options they will pick what they like and that they are unaware of gender roles until you teach it to them. You only have to tell them once that “pink is for girls and blue is for boys” and gender roles are forever ingrained (unless you teach them otherwise). Children are like sponges and are constantly trying to learn about the world that we live in. Gender roles are about control. People are more easily understood if they fit neatly in little boxes. But when those roles limit or oppress one set of people (and in turn all of us) then that is discrimination. There are no biological reasons why girls should like pink and boys should like blue. Back in the Victorian era pink was for boys and blue was for girls. Their reasoning then was that pink was a watered down version of red which was associated with aggression and strength while blue was associated with the Virgin Mary. The need nowadays to keep boys from playing with pink and dolls and girls from playing with trucks and bugs is because of a fear of homophobia. As if giving a boy a baby doll dressed in pink will make a boy like other boys in a sexual way instead of simply teach them how to take care of a child. People are born homosexual or heterosexual. It has nothing to do with nurture, it’s nature. This is about hatred of LGBT individuals and homophobic people not wanting their kids to be homosexual. You’ve heard of those “churches” that try to convert gays and lesbians to “straightness”. It’s all about fear and hatred. If either or both of my boys are homosexual there’s nothing I can or would do to change that. I love them for who they are and want them to be happy, the same as if they are heterosexual.
Another reason why our society has these gender roles is to oppress women. Toys targeted to girls are about tending to babies, cooking, cleaning and looking pretty. Toys targeted to boys are about being aggressive, getting dirty, and violence. We may not be in the 40’s and 50’s these days, but there is still an assumption that it is the female’s responsibility to take care of the kids and the home and the male’s job to go to war or bring home the bacon. We’ve certainly made a lot of strides and it is more acceptable for men to tend to kids and the house and women to earn the family income. In our home Bill is the chef, does the dishes and vacuums. I manage our finances and do the laundry and we both work outside the home. We’ve found a balance that works for us and it is not based on our gender. It is based on our interests and strengths. But, our family is more of an exception instead of the rule. Our society would be a lot happier and more prosperous if people were allowed to be themselves from the get-go and use their strengths instead of being told who they can be and criticized if they stray out of those tiny gender boxes. Think about it and open your eyes next time you walk down a toy isle.