Christmas: Pink and blue all over

This being my first Christmas as a feminist mom, I’m trying to look at the issue of gender and toys with fresh eyes. I feel like my husband and I have a handle on the unnecessary pink-is-for-girls and blue-is-for-boys polarity. But how to approach the tricky issue of gender-identity training inherent in so many toys on the shelves?

Just last week we were at Target and, of course, had to take a trip to the baby section. Right as we turn the corner there’s an end-cap with bright pink toy shopping carts filled with plastic food. Why are the carts pink? The carts at the grocery store aren’t pink. My husband grew up in a household where the father did all the grocery shopping, cooking and other kitchen work. Most chefs on TV are men (even though this toy, with a famous cake baker’s face on it, forgets that). So why, why the gendering of pretend grocery shopping?

The whole thing is so stupid! Why do we reinforce gender stereotypes through our children’s play and toys? This is where gender socialization begins!

Granted, at six months I have a few more months while my baby is blissfully ignorant of gender. She doesn’t know boy from girl or even which color is which. But it’s everywhere and it’s coming toward her whether I like it or not.

But maybe there’s a glimmer of hope, at least across the pond. This Guardian story points to a subtle shift away from “pink think” toys for girls and posits that parents have more interest and say in what their children are learning from their toys and play. I think it would be naive to think that this issue is dead, but it’s nice to think that all this furrowed-brow discourse is not for nothing.

I wonder, though, how much we parents are still a little bit to blame. Or at least our encoded socialization. When my husband and I were looking at two identical dolls for our baby — one blue and one pink — I did opt for the pink one. (There was no gender-neutral color option.) Blue is my favorite color, so why did I go for pink? In all honesty, I think it’s because a part of me gets tired of people saying I have a cute boy. (Ironically, if I dressed her in pink more, rather than other colors, she would probably not be confused for a boy as often.) But it is so stupid that it bothers me. And it doesn’t even bother me all the time. There is no way around it, that is part of my gender socialization coming through. It’s harder to wipe out than we cop to.

So, how do you handle the pink/blue, gender-specific toy debate?

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8 comments

  1. I know we talked about this recently, but, upon looking over the toys my daughter has I’ve noticed that it is by and large gender-neutral. There are a few pink-because-that’s-what girls-like toys that I did not pick out.
    I hate the color pink but I do buy Lyla some pink clothes for the same reason you do, Emmily, I don’t want people confusing her for a girl. It’s more for my convenience than anything else… I want to avoid the awkward conversation where I have to unavoidably correct the person by talking about my daughter and how cute SHE is, huh?
    On the other hand, I am totally opposed to the idea that she should only play with certain toys because she’s a girl. When I was a pre-schooler I wanted to play with dump trucks. All I wanted for Christmas when I was 4 years old were toy cars and dump trucks. Instead I got toy cooking items, measure cups, pots, pans, etc. When I was in grade school, I got Barbies even though I never asked for them, because I was a tomboy and it made people uncomfortable. So, they tried to impose their idea of what a girl should be like on me without realizing how harmful and really futile that would ultimately end up being.
    For me at this age (2 and under) toys are simply about development. As I’m sure you know, play time is learning time, so I look for toys that encourage language development, large and small motor skills development, that have music and lights as well as encourage her to use her imagination. I definitely make a conscious effort to not buy gender specific toys.
    About a month ago Lyla and I were at a new super Toys R Us/Babies R Us in the area and we were looking at age appropriate toys. They had these perfect sized race cars… I stopped dead when I saw they had a two pack in “boy” colors and a separate two pack in “girl” colors. Because if you’re a girl and play with cars, they must be pink and lavender, not blue or red. *eyeroll*
    I went shopping in early November with my husband’s parents at the same store to help them pick out stuff for Lyla for Christmas… I did everything I could to encourage them to buy gender neutral stuff but she will end up getting a pink “My First Doll.” I guess I can live with that.
    It’s funny you bring up the toy thing because it also reminds me of something my husband has been adamant about since we found out we were having a girl: she will not be a princess.
    At least not Disney’s version of a princess.
    So, she doesn’t get clothes that says “Daddy’s Princess” on it and we discourage any princess themed toys, too.
    Not to say she doesn’t have everything she could want and then some but we both feel encouraging that could be harmful, too, because we want her to be a strong, empowered, independent woman who understands there are rewards for hard work and that she doesn’t have to play the damsel in distress.
    As a result, we’re avoiding that entirely and have been from the start.
    What will be interesting for us is to see what Lyla is drawn to a year or two from now when she can articulate herself and to see how much of an impact our effort to avoid gender socialization has on her.
    I love having a girl and I want her to be a strong, confident girl. 🙂

  2. Having raised two boys it’s really easy to get crazy about buying really girlie things for a first grand daughter. Then I remember how much I hated all the pink and girl expectations of being the youngest and only girl with 2 older brothers. The good thing is that my parents allowed me to make my choices which included dolls and trucks. I have bought my grand daughter a purple stuffed animal and a “rock and roll” truck with flames on the side. She’ll let us know who she is, her parents are ready to listen, and we will need to support her choices- even if she wants to be a princess. It just shouldn’t be because society says she has to!
    I’m glad to hear the mothers of today realize all the subtle messages are out there.

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