Tuesday, December 06, 2011

Gender Specific Toys?

‘Tis the season to be shopping....

Yes, yes, I know, that wasn’t a very good try.  Anyhow, being bombarded with all the consumerism of the season and having recently completed the small amount of shopping we wanted to do for our son, I’ve had this thought bouncing around in my head.  Something I’m sure I’ve touched on before, even if only in passing with friends.

That dreaded topic of “gender specific” toys.

What initially got me thinking about this is the strange dichotomy that seems to exist when it comes to the kitchen.  You see all these great kitchen play sets done up in pinks and purples and all pretty and flowery to appeal to the young girl. *rolls eyes* But, when I watch things like “Top Chef” or talk to Abi about her time at Johnson & Whales, the predominant attitude is that you have to be a man to be a good chef, a top chef in the industry.  Why is it OK for a girl to play house and spend all her time in the kitchen cooking, but not for a little boy?  Why can’t a girl excel at the highly skilled and demanding job of being an executive chef?*   Or at least that’s what the advertising people seem to want us to think.
So, why is it that 99% of the kitchen toys out there are geared towards little girls?  I admit, I’ve seen a few pictures for kitchen play sets that show a little boy (all dressed in a sweater vest and tie! /another eye roll/ )  My son loves playing in the kitchen.  He frequently asks to help me cook.  I even let him some times, depending on what we’re making.  (He likes to help unless it’s going to be messy… and I don’t quite like him to help with the hot things yet, he has a habit of putting his hands out and leaning on whatever is in front of him, not a good idea with the stove!)  So, yes, this year we got him a little box of toy kitchen implements.**  He has his on drawer in the kitchen, which currently only has some plastic lids in it and the microwave bacon tray.  These will be his to play with in the kitchen.  He will love them.  And you know what; I really could care less that they’re all pink and purple.  I just wish I could have found a set that look more like my real tools without costing as much as my real tools.

And then, while looking through an article from the New York Times book section about the top kids’ books of the year, I come across this statement “This lullaby in rhyming couplets will also be loved by girls, with its images of vehicles clasping stars and cradling teddy bears.”
And my response immediately was “why wouldn’t a girl like a story about construction trucks?”  Why would you think that just because it has trucks in it and is “dirty” that a girl wouldn’t be interested at all?  I mean, Zoe has her own toolbox full of real tools and loves to help.  Kat is the first person I ask about what’s wrong with the car and then go to Andy if she’s stumped.  I can wield a hammer, pliers a saw or a drill as well or better than my husband.  (Don’t worry; he freely admits he’s not a tool kind of person…)  Mom and I spent many hours fixing things around the house when I was growing up, and building things for Gram.

Personally, assigning a gender to who should play with which toy is absurd.  Just like assigning colors to genders seems a little silly.  Sure, I don’t always practice what I preach and I will sometimes try and steer my son away from the bright pink shirt or backpack.  But then I remember that my brother’s favorite color for a few years there was pink, just because it was mine.  And if Boo ever really put up a fight for having to have the pink one, even after seeing his other options, I’d get it for him, because it would make him happy.  (Trust me, my son is definitely a “boy” and it has nothing to do with the colors he wears but in the way he thinks and approaches the world.)

But in this world with enough mixed messages, shouldn’t we be giving our kids the toys they want to play with, not just the ones we think they should play with?  Boo has loved playing in the kitchen and “cooking” since he was big enough to crawl.  He also loves tape measures and anything with buttons and cars and trucks and trains.  He loves his stuffed animals and takes care of them, including when they’re sick. (Kelly seems to always have a cold these days, poor girl.)  He even corrected me when I said that Kelly was a boy, Kelly is most definitely a girl bear.  When you ask him who his friends are he’s just as likely to say “Alexis” as “Dominic” or “Joey”.  (Actually, usually you just get “I don’t like Kevin” and then only after assuring him that’s OK, will he give you his friends’ names.)

Have I come to any conclusions other than the fact that I think that advertising people are playing it “safe” and continuing cultural norms that have been in place since the dark ages?  Not really.  I continue to be happy with our decision to buy Boo both a set of kitchen toys and a tool box and a tape measure for Christmas.  He will love all three toys very much.  The tools for both kitchen and workshop will allow him to continue to be creative and explore all kinds of things in his imagination.  And that, above all else, is the important thing; encouraging our kiddos imaginations.  Letting them figure out solutions to problems and who they want to be.

Peace to all and may you have plenty of toys that make you happy, no matter who is “supposed” to play with them.

*There have been some awesome women on some of the Top Chef seasons, but most of the women on the show just don’t have the edge or talent or skill that the men do.  Maybe they just aren’t as competitive, but I know that women can be extremely competitive when they want to, just spend a day in a high school…

**If anyone is looking for ideas for a boy-child, some play food would not go amis…

*** No, that's not the play set I bought Boo, I can't find it online.

1 comment:

Flauta Mom said...

When we went to Costa Rica I bought Claudia some play pots, all in nice aluminum color --like real stuff. She got a pink Disney tea set last year, hardly touches it because her fav color is blue. The Black and Decker tool set we got for her she loves.

For play food, save some containers. Claudia has a cake mix and macs and cheese box all taped up, along with assorted yogurt tubs and even a glass honey jar (she is extra careful with it).