With the deep sincerity only a highly articulate four year old can muster, Riley Maida, of Newburgh, N.Y., went made headlines this week when a video of her railing against the unfairness of “the companies” that market “pink stuff” for girls went viral. Pressed by her Dad as to why it wasn’t fair, she replies, “Girls want superheroes and boys want superheroes, and girls want pink stuff and the boys.” Riley’s a rising star and a clear voice in the continuing bid for gender equity.
Daughter: Dispatches From the Front Lines of the New Girlie-Girl Culture), asking “Should the World of Toys be Gender Free?” My kids would have given you an emphatic “Yes!” 20 years ago. And I certainly would have agreed over 40 years ago.
When I was about five or six, my father gave me a life-size walking and talking doll for Christmas (I think it was Christmas – he reads my blog and I’m sure will set the record straight!). I don’t remember much beyond being terrified of it. For the next 20 years, the doll sat on a trunk in my old bedroom in NJ, wearing one of my old dresses – pink of course – and one of my old pink knit caps. I eyed it warily every summer I spent in that bedroom, and it stared back in unnervingly unblinking reproach.
On the other hand, I absolutely loved ripping old produce crates apart with a claw hammer and then nailing the crate back together as a box. And I loved climbing trees and exploring in the woods and riding a motorcycle through the corn fields with an older cousin, and drawing and writing.
I actually didn’t have a whole lot of toys. I cooked in a real kitchen at a hot stove beside my Great Aunt Mary, not with an Easy Bake oven, and I used real tools to tinker with, not “child sized” toy tools. I really never thought about toys much until we had our own children, and every well meaning friend and relative inundated us with a variety of pink “girly” things for our daughters and “boy” things like trucks and GI Joes for our son, most of which ended up on a closet shelf and eventually in a donation box. (Sorry folks! We really appreciated the thoughts though!)
Our kids clearly had their own ideas of what they liked to play with, and it usually amounted to sticks in the yard, boxes, sidewalk chalk and puppets. They were big into puppets, spinning endless yarns in a makeshift hallway theater. They loved stories – hearing them and writing them – being outdoors and exploring, painting and drawing. One of my daughter’s favorite items (hard to call them “toys”) was a toolbox filled with real tools her father put together for her when she was just two and said she wanted “tools like Daddy’s.” She’s 21 and still has that toolbox, and the tools! My kids, and I when I was a kid, would have loved the move by Hamley’s department story in London, that the Times reported on.
“Hamleys, which is London’s 251-year-old version of F.A.O. Schwarz, recently dismantled its pink “girls” and blue “boys” sections in favor of a gender-neutral store with red-and-white signage. Rather than floors dedicated to Barbie dolls and action figures, merchandise is now organized by types (Soft Toys) and interests (Outdoor).”
Makes perfect sense to me! The article goes on to speculate on whether there are innate differences in boys and girls – something I explored here in “Baby X” back in May, when news of the Toronto family trying to keep their baby’s gender a secret from family made headlines in the spring. Orenstein notes, “Human boys and girls not only tend to play differently from one another — with girls typically clustering in pairs or trios, chatting together more than boys and playing more cooperatively — but, when given a choice, usually prefer hanging with their own kind.”
At the heart of the issue, though, says Orenstein, “is not nature or nurture but how nurture becomes nature: the
environment in which children play and grow can encourage a range of aptitudes or foreclose them. So blithely indulging — let alone exploiting — stereotypically gendered play patterns may have a more negative long-term impact on kids’ potential than parents imagine.”
“Why do all the girls have to buy princesses?,” asks Riley. ” Some girls like superheroes, some girls like princesses. Some boys like superheroes, some boys like princesses. So why does all the girls have to buy pink stuff and all the boys have to buy different color stuff?”
They don’t, Riley. It’s 2012! We’re free to be you and me, boy and girl, man and woman, doing what we love, playing with what we love, loving whom we love.
Wishing all children everywhere not just the freedom to play with what they like, but safe places in which to play, good people to love and care for them, and a future of equal opportunities for boys and girls to grow up to be happy, healthy, successful, productive and fulfilled men and women.
Happy New Year!