You can’t play with that!I’ve realised that I’m a complete hypocrite. I’m always complaining that the toys for little girls are so stereotyped. All that pink, light pink, dark pink, and more pink just makes me cringe. Why don’t little girls deserve to have their toys made using bright, stimulating, primary colours just like little boys’ toys, I complained. I’ve wondered what I would do if I ever had a little girl. I imagined myself going to lengths to fill her world with other colours. No way would she be gender-stereotyped before she could even talk.
But somehow, I completely missed the other side of the issue. What about pigeon-holing my Little Man? While I’m happy to fill his life with all of those bright primary colours, I’ve also happily dressed him in various shade of blue without giving it a second thought. Whereas, had he been female, I think I would have been complaining about all the pink and consciously or subconsciously trying to avoid it.
And more than that, I don’t think I’ve bought him a single toy that would be considered “a girl’s toy”. Yet, I know from watching him play in creche that he would get hours of fun from a doll. We were in the Early Learning Centre a few weeks back, and the first toy he wanted to play with was the doll and pram. Today he was in a toy shop with Charlie, and Charlie said he was having great fun playing with the dolls and prams there. And why not? Why should he think those are not something little boys would play with? After all, whenever we go anywhere as a family, it’s usually Charlie who pushes the buggy. And Little Man knows that Daddy gives cuddles and kisses that are just as good as those from Mammy. He knows that he and Daddy have a whole day each week when it’s just the two of them and Daddy does all the minding.
For generations, little girls have been socialised to be carers and nurturers, but these days, dads are called on to play a caring, nurturing role as well. So are we doing our sons a disservice by failing to teach them to parent through play? Or did everyone else figure this out ages ago, and is it just me who’s been missing out? Out of curiosity, I checked the Early Learning Centre website, and guess what? They sell two doll strollers – a pink one and a blue one, pushed by a girl and a boy respectively in the marketing photo. How did I miss this? Clearly there’s a market for dolls and prams aimed at boys – otherwise, the store wouldn’t bother to stock them, would it?
Yet, I can’t remember the last time I saw a little boy playing with a doll and pram out and about. I regularly see little girls playing with their dollies when they’re out and about with their families. So I wonder – given that the Early Learning Centre and other toy stores clearly think that there is a market for strollers and dolls for boys – where are they? Are toddler boys playing happily with their dollies at home, but being encouraged to choose another more appropriate toy to bring out in public just in case anyone would tease them? And if that’s what’s happening, what does that say about our underlying thoughts about gender roles?
I’m surprised at myself that I’m not entirely comfortable with giving my son a doll to play with and look after, and push around in a pram or stroller. I know what I would say to Charlie if he announced that minding babies or pushing strollers is only something women should do! Have I been subconsciously subscribing to the idea that “girls’ toys” and therefore girls’ roles are somehow lesser? That playing with them will make my Little Man less of a man? How ridiculous! Well, change starts at home as they say. So there’s only one thing for it. This weekend, we’re going shopping for a doll and stroller for Little Man – a blue one. (Though I must admit – some socialisation just goes too deep – I don’t think I can bring myself to buy him a pink one! Baby steps folks!)
For some more perspective on this issue, check out Word Cloud: How Toy Ad Vocabulary Reinforces Gender Stereotypes. See if you can guess which Wordle art was generated using words from advertising for boys’ toys, and which is from advertising for girls’ toys! Not difficult to figure it out, is it? (Thanks Anthony for sharing this link with me.)