No 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!