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Barbie is not welcome in my house

Little girl playing with truck in sandpitNo Gender December has sparked various forms of outrage, criticism and support.

The audacity of some people to suggest the gender stereotyping of toys can have an impact on our precious children!

Well of course it can!

I must admit my Christmas shopping has been spent flicking through boys’ sections of toy catalogues and in the boys’ clothing and toy departments. Thomas bed sheets. Darth Vader pyjamas. Boy’s jigsaw puzzles. Except I don’t have boys. I have two girls.

The eldest at 5, loves Star Wars, her favourite characters? Darth Vader and Chewbacca. The youngest at 2 also loves Star Wars and Thomas the Tank Engine. I could only toilet train her by purchasing Thomas undies. Which are only available for boys (but are better made than girls ones, and a bit more wedgie proof too!).

They like strong, powerful, interesting characters, is that so strange? At 2, our eldest bought a toy dump truck from the shops. It was unlike anything anyone had ever given her and she was thrilled. “She can’t play with that, it’s for boys!” my sister remarked with disgust. And why? Do we want to prevent our girls from pursuing their interests and passions for fear of venturing too far into “boys’ territory”, shouldn’t this be where gender equality begins?

Barbie has never been allowed in our house. And never will be. Nor will Bratz and Monster High dolls. I remember hearing shocked gasps and comments alluding to the idea that our girls would be deprived of something essential in their childhood if Barbie was not a part of it. Barbie gifts were secretly stowed away until they were forgotten, then donated to charity. The few requests made for a Barbie quickly ceased when something better came along.

Having struggled with an eating disorder for most of my life, I don’t want our girls growing up, looking at Barbie, as I did, and not understanding why they don’t look like “the perfect woman”. For me, it didn’t help that my mum was a bit of a Barbie herself; with her blonde hair and voluptuous figure.

The uproar over a recent Barbie book titled Barbie – I Can Be a Computer Engineer, depicts Barbie infecting two laptops with viruses, then needing men to fix the problem, without Barbie actually learning to do anything, left me wondering, who do our young girls have to look up to and inspire them to be more than vacuous bimbos and damsels in distress waiting to be rescued?

Superheroes? Boys have a plethora of powerful, inspiring, intelligent noble characters to look up to, many who have origins in a love for science, or technology.

Girls have female spinoffs – Batgirl, Supergirl, She Ra, Spidergirl, even She-Hulk, all of whom seem to be designed to be more pleasing to men, with bulbous breasts, tiny waists and well-rounded derrieres, clad in skimpy, skin-tight lycra costumes. If we are looking for original, strong super heroines wearing more than a strip of material here and there to inspire our strong women of the future, we are left with, The Powerpuff Girls. These very cute kindergarten super heroines’ uses their powers to “fight crime before bedtime” I am a huge fan of aforementioned girls, but they’re not inspiring our daughters to win a Nobel Prize are they?

I grew up loving the Disney Princesses, and with the birth of our first daughter, could not wait to introduce her to them. But, reading the stories again through fresh eyes, saw that they were lacking so much that I wanted our daughters to possess. Most of them were just waiting for a man to rescue them from their dismal lives. That was their dream. Their only dream. Surely there is more to a young girl’s life than just finding a man, looking pretty and singing well. Then along came Elsa and Anna from Frozen. Two strong female characters that didn’t need men to save them and used their own brains and unique powers to save the day! Is it a wonder that girls all over the world have become so obsessed?

Ultimately the biggest influence on our daughters’ attitudes towards gender equality, education, self esteem and self worth has to come from their parents. Not only talking about it and explaining it, but living it and showing them that women can do everything men can do. It doesn’t matter what your body looks like. Be proud if you are great at maths or a brilliant soccer player. These are things we should be encouraging in our girls, but with popular culture so against us, it creates yet another challenge in the world of parenting.

So next time you shop for presents for your daughters, and any other special girls, think about the gift you choose, what sort of a message it is sending? Is it empowering and inspiring, or a stereotypical, clichéd, “gender-appropriate” present? Take a risk, pick something surprising, and the reaction may surprise you too. The dump truck our daughter bought three years ago still remains a favourite with her, and now her little sister too. It is mainly used to transport their princess figurines, with Princess Jasmine as the driver, to attend birthday parties, or fight a war.

Adding “boys’ toys” to girls’ playtime doesn’t make daughters any less “girly”. It opens their mind to new experiences and ideas and helps cement the knowledge that being a girl also means they can be anything, from a truck driver to a princess, and in our house, quite often both!

Image credit: saksoni/123RF Stock Photo

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5 comments so far -

  1. Sounds so much like my almost 3yo daughter. She has a tardis, a serious of star wars figures, adores her soft toys, has trains, plans and other vehicles (playing races with daddy is fun). She takes her Tonka bull dozer to the park. She had a interest in Barbie for a fleeting moment because of the ads on TV, I gave her one of my old ones, it lasted 2 days and is now at the bottom of the toy box. She dresses up her soft toys like other girls would dolls, but she has no interest in dolls. She’s loves arts and crafts and singing and dancing. Tutus are fun but not really something she wants on all the time. She loves pretend cooking at her kitchen (which mind you is not one of those pink ones as we would like colours in her life)

    I’ve tried not to pigeon hole her with just giving her “girls” toys (although some friends and family were shoving these at her). I find she is very much almost like I was as a kid. I grew up to study Engineering.

    Comments have been made towards her and us when we go shopping in the toy aisle. Mothers and grandmothers have said “how strange, you should be playing with pretty dolls” when she is hugging and showing off the new helicopter she has chosen.

    We don’t stop her from choosing girly toys, she can choose whatever she likes (finding that if she chooses the toy she will love and play with it, unlike the others which get cast aside). She gets to see all sections before making a decision.

  2. I have a 9 month old daughter and am not keen on barbie either, the reason being I always remember spending so much time inspecting her nude body worrying if I will look that good and I was only 5, then worrying why I wasn’t trim and tall at 11, I don’t want my boy or girl worrying as children about a perfect body. Too many cut up, muscly physique action toys in boys faces 24/7 could be bad too, my 3year old already asks why he doesn’t look like that. The house has plenty of action figurines so I will not be getting anymore, something that isn’t a muscly figurine is what I’ll buy next.

    However I am not against dolls and kitchen set ups for girls, people say it sends the wrong message, what message? In life people use a kitchen and have babies? So it’s ok to buy cars and trucks for a girl to change a expectation, that’s then probably saying these are for boys normally and I want you to be anything but a doll playing meal cooking little girl, let them have a mix of different themed toys whether they are a boy or girl. When my daughter is old enough I WILL buy her kitchen setups etc and her brothers will will play with it too, she plays with cars,action figurines and trucks at the moment as I am not spending money or fill the house with anymore toys for now, my boys are playing with my old fry pans at the moment in their toy room, pretending to cook up a storm, would that be seen wrong if they were girls.

    I think we shouldn’t ban or rule out things like trucks for boys and baby dolls for girls why can’t we mix it up? Fry pans, baby dolls, trucks in dirt is what I give for all my children boys or girl to play with. My nine month old daughter had nail polish on her toes, someone was starring shaking their head, well next to her was my 22month old son with nail polish too, While I was painting my nails they looked interested so I gave them a go, I think we need to relax a little.

    • Love all this. I’ve never stopped my boys or girls from having what interests them. We have cousins who aren’t allowed toys not for their specific gender.
      My son loved his kitchen and now so do his sisters. They all love playing in the sandpit with all the trucks my son was given and never greatly interested in. As he had older girl cousins he wanted to dress up as a fairy and wear nail polish as they did. So I let him. Now at 7 he’s horrified if I suggest it – he’s a boy , only girls do that. Though he will do nail polish on Halloween.
      My middle daughter I don’t know where she came from. She’s typical girly girl. Nothing I ever taught my kids.
      My youngest daughter loves her Thomas train she got from Santa and won’t share it. Both girls love playing with dinosaurs.
      I don’t understand parents who won’t let their kids follow their interests no matter where they lay. We also have a house full of barbies and princess as they love them as well. The girls dolls are always ordering everyone around and arguing with any boy who doesn’t want to do as they’re told.
      I’ve found my kids pick toys that interest them and use them to copy their parents behaviour. If mum is a strong can do woman It doesn’t matter what the dolls story is , when it’s played with the toys act out kids everyday life. My two daughters are out going and confident. They order all their friends around. And my son also leads the way with his friends a lot. I am very proud of this. It is all my fault and I’ve worked hard to teach it to my three kids. Toys are irrelevant .

      • Hi – thanks for your comment. Sounds like my three. My boy was playing fairy dress-ups with his sister yesterday. I bet he won’t like being reminded of that in a few years so I’m enjoying it – his ‘whatever’s fun’ attitude – while I can.

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