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?