The holiday season has every parent considering the best toys to give their good little boys and girls. Lately, we’ve thought a lot about toys that look like weapons, and whether they’re the right choice for our kids. But no toy discussion is complete without a mention of gender balance. And in the increasingly gendered world of children’s toys, my family’s solution is simply to provide a wide range of girls’ and boys’ toys, then let my daughter choose what to play with.
As a recent New York Times editorial pointed out, the toy aisles of your local stores are more separated by gender than ever before. Even when the sexes had much less equality, when the majority of women worked inside the home, toys and the ads that marketed them stayed marvelously gender neutral. Decades later, we have more equality than ever, but also an alarming trend to completely divide children’s toys based on gender.
The issues behind LEGO Friends vs. LEGOs for all have had parents debating and websites buzzing. But as we all discuss the need for more gender-neutral toys (or the lack of need, depending on who you speak to), some of us still have to make our way through those toy aisles and come out with presents for our kids. So what’s a mom to do?
In our house, we handle the increasing pressure to buy princess pink or superhero blue by going purple. That is, we buy a little from both sides, throw them all in a toy room together and see how the mess turns out. The result has been a Batcave that connects to a Barbie Dreamhouse. We have Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles living with our Little Pet Shops. And under our Christmas tree, you’ll find a Power Rangers Samurai Sword sitting next to a Princess Cadance My Little Pony. For every Dora, there’s a Diego and for every Tinkerbell, there’s a LEGO Ninjago.
In buying presents for my daughter, friends and family are all made aware that traditional boys’ toys are completely welcome. In fact, we sometimes highlight the male-leaning toy interests more, so that loved ones will realize we’re really not joking about our daughter’s requests. (Honest, she wants a giant rat named Splinter. She already has an April action figure.)
Do some children gravitate towards their gender’s toys exclusively? Of course they do. There are plenty of little girls who like playing with babydolls and kitchen sets exclusively. There are little boys who love trains and racetracks and action figures who would instantly turn up their noses at homemaker-type gifts. The problem is that not every child fits in to those stereotypes. Even worse, some children feel forced into these categories as a way to fit in with their friends.
As my daughter gets older, that peer pressure to love all that is glittery and magenta will get stronger. Even though she loves action figures and Tonka trucks, she might gravitate towards the toys she sees her girl friends playing with. I feel like it’s my job to show her from an early age that no toy is gender-exclusive. Once you get it out of the packaging, who cares if it shows a boy playing with it on the front? Once you’re out of the toy store, who cares which aisle it came from?
I want my daughter to know that she can play with Barbie, Batman or both. So I make sure that all of the options show up under out Christmas tree.