Tuesday, October 23, 2012

Gendered Toys

My brother and I are not terribly close. I mean, there isn't too much animosity between us, but had you asked me when I was a kid if I wanted a brother, the answer would have been "NOOOO!" as an adult, however, there is one thing that came from having a brother almost my own age that I'm glad for. Exposure to boy toys.

Now, as a kid, I loved my Barbies and My Little Ponies and Polly Pocket (did anyone else have those magnetic sets?) but I also loved my Pokemon toys, and dinosaurs and animals and robots and my brother's hot wheels. I love my Mother, but she subscribes to traditional gender rolls pretty strongly, and had I not had a brother, I don't think I would have grown up watching X-Men and Dragon Ball Z and many other nerdy properties that, if I'm honest with myself, shapes the fiction I write to this day a lot more than Jem and the Holograms* ever has. I wouldn't have grown up with a Super Nintendo (and later N64) in the house because, officially, those were my brothers. I think I would have been at least partially exposed to these things, but I don't think I'd have been as exposed if I didn't have a brother, and I would have faced a lot more resistance for wanting to play video games. I don't think the long lasting love affair the N64 and I have going on would have happened at all. So I'm glad I had a brother, even if he beat me up and called me names and was, generally, as unpleasant as you'd expect a big brother who is only barely bigger to be. 

I am now reaching an age where people around me are having kids, on purpose. I have two cousins who gave birth within 48 hours. I have other family members with more babies on the way. So far they've almost all been boys, but lately, a few girls have been trickling in, which has gotten me to reflect on my own childhood with a brother.

Even as a kid, I resented how... Pink, and princessy, I was expected to be. I wanted to be a princess AND a superhero! Who rode a robot-dinosaur! I don't think all kids need to have clearly defined gender boundaries, but I suspect buying little boys Barbies won't go over well, so I have come up with a plan for the little brats that are rapidly infiltrating my life.

Consider this an oath.

I swear to never buy a gendered toy for the kids in my life.**
I will buy stuffed animals in the most neutral colors I can find.
I will buy arts and crafts.
I will buy SO MUCH lego.
I will buy science toys.
I will buy puzzles.
I will buy board games.
I will buy sporting equipment.
I will buy them musical instruments. 
I will buy them more books than their parents will know what to do with.
I will buy them video games that don't pander to a specific gender (RPGS FOR ALL!).
I will buy them a toy that is not typically aimed at their gender if they show interest (little boy wants an Easy Bake Oven? IT IS DONE!)
I will not buy them anything wrapped in gaudy pink and purple and glitter.
I will not buy them anything that is covered in muscle men and army cameo.

Do I think this will make a difference? Probably not. But maybe it will. If nothing else, it's something I can do, and sometimes finding that baby step you as an individual can take to adressing an issue is huge. I want the kids in my life to have awesome toys, and both genders have them. Come on, you think my brother wasn't playing with my Polly Pockets while I was playing with his hot wheels? They fit inside the convertible!

*This is not a shot at Jem, it just didn't impact me the same way.
**Says the woman never planning to have children.


  1. As a child with a sister, I am glad I had a fairly easy-going mother who let us climb trees, get muddy and play with what we chose to. The idea of not letting a child play with something because of their gender is terrible - we usually shared toys with male cousins and school friends anyway. Great blog post.

  2. What if your daughter/niece/whatever WANTS a Barbie? I played with Legos (did I ever!), climbed trees, and looooooved dinosaurs, but I also loved loved loved dolls and Barbies. My mom, bless her heart, let me do what I want (and I only had a sister, so it's not like I got my bro's toys). Don't rail against gendered toys so much you make the little girls in your life feel bad for being "girly." Otherwise, go you!


    1. As I said, I loved my girly toys, too. I don't think there is anything wrong with a kid being into things that are traditionally gendered, or being into gender roles. They're kids, and they're figuring it out. I get that. I just think it's important for kids to have toys from both sides of the spectrum so they realize that gender norms aren't as rigid as a lot of things aimed at kids would have them believe.

      Also if my imaginary niece wanted a Barbie, someone-else is going to buy her one. Several someone elses will buy her several. I will be shocked if there comes a time that I have to jump on that one unless I have a kid of my own. The plan then is to just buy them lots of boy and girl toys.

  3. LOVE this post. I completely agree, having a baby brother helped me, but I was lucky enough to have a cool dad, who was probably purposely shaping me into a Tomboy and buying me GI JOEs and Trasformers with the Barbies and Shira's (AND HE-Man's castle)

  4. I've always hated the idea of gender toys. I am an only child and yes, I had barbies and make-up (kid's makeup), but I don't think I've ever been like a super girly-girl, maybe a few short periods, but there were also periods where I hated pink and everything to do with pink. I think I've always liked boys toys more. For instance one of my favorite things in the ages between 8 and 12 was to play Crash Bandicoot whenever i went to my cousins, no matter how much I sucked at it (I got better). But it was too little, I'd onl go to see them 3 times a year tops, as they live in a different town and would usually spend the time playing with my girl-cousin. They even bought me a PS2 when I was young, and there was one game that I like to play, but not too much. Anyway, I don't like the idea of gendered toys and when I have children of my own I will not buy them gendered (well, the extreme ones anyway, like Barbies or muscled man, unless they want them, I guess.) toys and will actively discourage my friends and family to do so.

    Also, why don't you want to have children? I think you'll be a great mom, you are fun and chilled, you have a lot of right ideas... Just don't start having them before you are 30, that to me is a huge mistake. Before 30 most people aren't responsible enough, financially secure enough and aren't even fully-formed persons themselves and I think it's very important to be a fully-formed person yourself, before you start forming another person.

  5. Thea, I realise you're aiming to be supportive, but in general, telling people whether they should or shouldn't have kids, and when they should or shouldn't have kids, is not cool. There's already a huge amount of pressure on people whenever they make a choice that doesn't fit into the social expectation--if they decide to have kids young, they get judged for getting into something that people think they can't handle; if they decide to put off having kids until much later, they're judged and people figure they're racing against some biological desperation and regrets; if they decide not to have kids at all, everyone everywhere tells them they'd be great at it and SHOULDN'T THEY RECONSIDER FOR THE ELEVEN HUNDREDTH TIME?

    Please don't be one of those people. Thanks!