On the uproar over “pink and girly” toys

Last night, as I was watching the Super Bowl (go Seattle!), I noticed an ad for a company called Goldie Blox, where girls were gathering up all their pink toys and putting them into a giant heap (to be burned?). You can watch it here:

I have heard the general sentiment of this ad echoed many times from Facebook friends lately, all lamenting the fact that the vast majority of toys marketed to girls are pink, purple, sparkly, or in some other way “princessy”.

To which I say, what’s wrong with that?

Invariably, they will answer, in outrage, that “boy” toys include building sets and science kits, and somehow it’s sexist not to market these same things to girls. “Girl” toys are relegated to dolls (some of whom are too sexy), pretend make up sets, baby dolls, princesses, castles, etc.

So first let’s break down this notion of “boy” vs. “girl” toys in the first place. Last time I checked, no girl was going to explode or come into any other type of bodily harm if she picked up and played with, let’s say, a toy truck. On the flip side, no boy is going to explode if he picks up, and plays with a doll. There is nothing inherent in toys that makes them usable for one gender only.

So, now that that’s out of the way, why then, do girls seem to gravitate towards “pink and girly” toys, and boys gravitate toward trucks, and trains, and building sets? That’s a good question, and in fact that very question has been studied countless times by behavioral scientists. What they’ve mostly found, in a nutshell, is that very young children choose uber-manly or uber-girly toys because they are learning, and asserting, their gender identities. Children’s toys are an over-exaggeration of what our society deems as feminine and masculine.  And kids just seem to like what they like.  My experience with this is this: My son is 3 years older than my daughter.  I thought she would grow up to be sort of tomboy-ish because she had all of her brother’s toys around to play with.  Wrong!  She was never interested in them, despite multiple times of me trying to get her to play with them (because I’m cheap and didn’t want to buy new toys).

Back to princesses. Girls like princesses for a few main reasons: pretty dresses, fancy jewelry, long flowing hair. Guess what? In real life, it is (mostly) women who have all these traits. I think little girls’ fascination with princesses is less about them aspiring to grow up and marry (rich) Prince Charming, as it is about play-acting out the pinnacle of femininity.

It’s the same reason that little boys like construction equipment. Big, strong men (usually) work construction, with big manly backhoes and lots and lots of manly dirt. It’s an over-exaggerated version of masculinity.

So why are we as parents, fretting over the example of a princess for our daughters, but we are not fretting over the example of a construction worker for our sons? Yes, we aspire more for our daughters than to grow up and marry a rich dude and look pretty. I would also say that we aspire more for our sons than to grow up and become a construction worker.

This uproar over “pink and girly” is well-intentioned, I believe. But I’m afraid the message it’s really sending our children is this:

Femininity is inferior to masculinity.

Why aren’t we in an uproar that baby dolls and strollers aren’t marketed to boys? After all, most men will be parents, and will have to change diapers and push strollers at some point in their lives. Why aren’t we mad that dress up sets aren’t marketed to boys? After all, if we want them to become the next CEO, they will need to know how to groom themselves and dress for success.

To think that somehow we are putting girls at a career disadvantage because of what toys they play with as kids is sort of ridiculous, really. And scorning their pink and purple and princessy toys could also be harmful to them, by telling them more or less, that feminine is not as acceptable as masculine.  Another personal example: when I was a kid I mostly played with Barbies and My Little Ponies.  I also played with Legos, but mostly just used them to build people, and houses, and play-act with them the same way I did with my Barbies.  Did I grow up to bleach my hair blonde, pursue modeling, and want to be a veterinarian to oddly colored horses?  Why no.  In fact, I loved math and started college as an engineering major.

My daughter has a tricycle that is pink and covered in Disney princesses. She loves it. And when she’s riding it, she’s getting exercise, fresh air, and vitamin D. Just the same as when my son rides his red, “boy-ish” bike.

Maybe we should celebrate the fact that so many formerly gender neutral toys are now available in “girly” colors. Who knows? I may have been much more interested in sports as a kid if I had been given a pink tennis racket, or softball bat, etc. I have a friend whose daughter wanted nothing to do with sports until she found pink softball gear at the sporting goods store. She then went on to become the captain of her team.

Gender identity is important. Many moons ago, I taught myself to play guitar (badly) and I was in a band. I saved up my money to buy a nicer guitar, and I was thrilled to find one that was pink! I was the only girl in my band, and for me, that was a source of pride. A pink guitar in my mind said to the world that I was proud to be a girl.

Let’s teach our daughters that being “girly” is a good thing, not a bad one.  Girls, if you love your pink toys, keep them!  If you don’t, there are plenty of other toys that aren’t pink you can choose.  Who cares if they are in the “boy” toy section?  I certainly don’t.

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