Perhaps it is the natural out-growth of keeping an eagle-eye out for Tired Marketing Fails or it is just the nature of being a feminist parent, but I find shopping for my toddler to be the hardest of my entire holiday gift list.
We do our best to give our kids an environment that is filled with stimulating toys that spark creativity and imagination. Many moons ago when I was working as a nanny to put myself through college, I stumbled upon an academic paper about a psychological experiment designed to track when gendered toy choices entered the equation. (I’m afraid my college years pre-date any of the useful parts of the internet and I can’t find a link to this right now.) The researchers were surprised to note that children who were raised in neutral settings (i.e. no one labeled things as being for boys or for girls only), reacted to toys like trucks and dolls similarly. In fact, caring and nurturing for dolls is a developmental milestone in pretend play (especially if the toddler has siblings). But in our culture, we see dolls as an extension of babies and babies are of the domestic sphere and therefore labeled female. This paper made big impression on me in how I worked with children as a nanny and later a preschool teacher. Our society says there’s something wrong with boys playing with dolls, but if we were really listening to biology we would be encouraging children of all genders and gender-identities to have equal access to pretend play scenarios, including dolls, little kitchens, little tool benches, and all the things toddler want to do to mimic us adults.
Now that I’m a mom, I feel the burden of information like this all the more. Am I walking the walk in my own home? What am I modeling for my daughter in my behavior and in the toys and games we play? (Please click here if you need a pep talk and a reminder that we are not failing our kids!)
And if you are encouraging your child to be living life to their own beat, then you will also come up against walls of sexism that try to discourage you. As I shared on KNPR last week, my daughter’s favorite character is Spiderman. I have only found one Spidey shirt in a “girl’s” section. And I have never seen Spidey in a pink-colored toy aisle. Of course, that doesn’t mean that she doesn’t have plenty of Spidey shirts and toys. They just come from “across the aisle.” I worry about the point in her life when peer pressure or a misguided parent or teacher tries to turn her away from this much like people did with one of my brothers at a similar age when he was obsessed with Cinderella. Sigh. But for now, I am happy to indulge (within reason, I’m not made of money).
This year it seems harder than ever as Las Vegas has been hit by the great recession particularly hard and many small and independent toy shops have closed up. Even the megalith ToysRUs is well on the other side of town from humble Tired Feminist headquarters. But honestly, that’s fine by me because that place gives me hives… And I’ve found some pretty great inspiration on the internet for children’s gifts that take the sexist-conformist-gender-policing out of the equation. (But check back soon for my Xmas-themed TMF!)
Before I launch into the list, I wanted to just make a couple of things clear: (1) I have not received any kind of compensation for any item, brand, or shop on this list. (I did not even tell them that they are being featured.) And (2) I know this list is skewed a bit to the girl gift side, but that is because in my research, I found so many more pro-girl sites. I would add to this point that when I was looking at traditional sites like Amazon, ToysRUs, Target and more, boys are hugely favored in creative/imaginative toys and activities that promote science, math, sports, technology and so many other areas that girls are traditionally left out of. So, I erred on the side of leveling the playing field. Finally, this post offers some good tips for creating a non-sexist holiday shopping list for kids.
- A Mighty Girl: This site has an amazing collection of gender-neutral and pro-girl items from books to clothes that is wonderfully curated by two parents who were fed up with the status quo. (Some readers might remember I profiled them before.) The site has items for sale in a special Amazon shop as well as links to many other thoughtful and empowering internet shops. Definitely worth perusing.
- MindWare: This site has some a great selection of award-winning, pro-learning and creativity toys and games. As a bonus, their toddler section is not nearly as anemic as some.
- A Closet of Her Own: This site offers clothing for girls who like things that are traditionally labeled for boys. You’ll find t-shirts with dinosaurs, trucks, and sports themes in the more gender-traditional pinks and purples. I waffled about including this site on the list because it does hue toward stereotypical color-branding, but this might be a good site to send family or friends who just can’t stomach shopping in the “boy” section for their female grandchild or niece.
- Etsy: You’ll have to do some digging and creative searches, but there is a treasure trove of gift options on Etsy, depending on the seller. (I like this Montessori-inspired dollhouse, which is not only gender-neutral but shows a boy and girl playing with it.)
- Uncommon Goods: This site does a lot of upcycling and re-purposing. They offer some interesting kid’s gifts, especially for babies.
Holiday gift lists:
- AAUW’s Gift Guide for Girls has some top-notch suggestions, including GoldieBlox, engineering gifts for girls (designed by a female engineer).
- Offbeat Families has a fun gift list that includes items for children of all ages (and adults, too). This list is good for anyone who veers toward Dr. Who and alternative culture.
- Daisy & Zelda offer a list with good alternatives to bad ideas.
And if that’s not enough for you… I have some ideas of my own!
- DIY: The easiest way to avoid negative gender stereotypes sold by big-box corporations is to just avoid that scene entirely. My husband and I are making a play-kitchen for my daughter out of some furniture pieces we salvaged from a thrift store. (You really only need to make a pretend sink and pretend oven and the rest is gravy.) I know there are feminists shaking their heads at me and saying, “But giving a girl a kitchen is sexist!” But I strongly disagree. Ignoring the things that are problematic does not make them go away. Someday my child will be a grown up and need to feed herself at least three times a day. When that day comes, I want her to know how to take care of herself. She sees her mommy and daddy in the kitchen, cooking and cleaning. She wants to mimic what we do! Pretending to cook is not what is sexist. Telling children that only girls should pretend to cook is what is sexist! (Build this kind of kitchen. Not that.) So buck the sexism and build your kid an awesome pretend tool bench or sew a beautiful set of play clothes or create a replica of the solar system out of Styrofoam balls on their bedroom ceiling. Do it your way and skip the sexist baggage all together! (PS: Etsy is a great place to check out stuff that people did to get ideas — or just buy what somebody else had time to do.)
- Go! Go! Sports Girls! This a fantastic line of dolls (ages 3+) that depict girls playing all kinds of sports — baseball, soccer, basketball, etc. Some girls have glasses. The girls represent different races. … It’s pretty great.
- Genderific Coloring Books are good for all genders and kids of all ages, these coloring books are all about breaking down gender roles!
- Double-down on Experiences: Why not splurge on a family-style gift that can lead to many shared experiences? We got a bike-trailer last year and it has been worth every penny. Our daughter loves it. We get exercise. And it has a lot of repeat use-value. If biking is not your thing, why not get camping gear or your kid’s first pair of hiking boots?
- Invest in your child’s DIY spirit: Maybe it’s the former preschool teacher in me, but I love encouraging art projects. Get an easel, an art smock, and a book (or internet search) on some fun projects to do! (You might want to also get a tarp for your floor, depending on the project.) For older kids, why not take a class on jewelry making or wood-working? Build your own print-screening machine and make funny family t-shirts. (Tie-dying shirts is an oldie but fun.)
Have I left something out that you have found? Leave all your great non-sexist gift ideas in the comments!