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On Little Boys & Pink Toys

Dec06

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Hi Amalah,

I’ve been a happy blog/smackdown follower/sharer since a little before Ike was born – thanks for all the laughs and the wise advice! My son just turned two last July, and with Christmas coming up, I’ve been obsessing over what to get him. One of the things that I’m trying to pay attention to is the gender messages in the toys. I’ve always considered myself a feminist until I had a boy-child and said “Great! Their toys are so much cooler!” (WTH, self?!?) I want to make sure I’m not limiting my child but I seem to have developed an allergy to pink. I’ve noticed that you’re great with getting the boys baby dolls, pink strollers, and helping them navigate the minefield of “regular” Lego vs. Lego Friends. Can you share some sources & tips? Thanks so much!

Attentively,
Jean

Oh, THIS. This this this. Very timely indeed. My husband and I were debating what to buy our niece for Christmas and I mooooannnned at the prospect of sending yet another pink and floofy Disney princess type toy. “But that’s what she likes,” he rightfully pointed out.

Meanwhile, Ezra and I went shopping together a few days ago. Ezra — my little tenderhearted angel who adores his play kitchen and “babies” and who asked Santa for 1) Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles and 2) a toy high chair for his teddy bear — had some birthday money with him and the goal of replacing a beloved toy blender. The blender was orange, battery-operated and really “worked,” and unfortunately the boys got a little carried away with their WILL IT BLEND? experiments and broke it while making a Play-Doh milkshake.

We were at Target, where the toy selection is admittedly more limited than at a real toy store, but I figured they’d have something similar. I found the aisle with play kitchen items and started walking…only to realize Ezra was still at the end, frozen.

“This is all…girl toys,” he whispered, staring at the sea of ceiling-high pink.

Noooooooooo! I thought. Nooooooo! Why? Where? Who told you that???

“Kitchen toys are for everyone! So are pink toys!” I babbled. “Come on, let’s find a blender! Look at this cool coffee maker!”

You guys, he wouldn’t move. He would not set foot in the “girl” aisle. It was such a bummer.

He bought an Angry Birds Jenga set instead. I added a (non-pink) blender to his Amazon Wish List when we got home.

Sorry for that tangent, but it had me thinking so much more about this topic already, before I even read your question. I thought we were doing pretty good! And yet, maybe it was inevitable that our influence could only go so far.

But I’m still glad we made the effort. Ezra might shy away from Pepto Bismol colored toy aisles, but that doesn’t change the fact that he really, deeply enjoys all pretend play around cooking, cleaning, and being a family. And that none of his play centers around Daddy Going To Work While Mommy Stays Home Doing Mommy Things. Sometimes Daddy stays home! Daddy cooks and cleans and tends to boo-boos and diapers. That’s a more important detail, I think, than trying to fight a simple aversion to the color pink and our own feminist baggage with it. As long as our boys don’t view pink or “girl toys” as LESSER, or INFERIOR, (and thus transfer those feelings to actual human females in general), it’s okay to let them have whatever toy preferences they naturally develop.

Noah never liked play kitchens or baby dolls or stuffed animals. He liked trains and cars. He did ask for a dollhouse once and we happily obliged — the good news is that there are a LOT of awesome, gender-neutral options out there so it’s not like a dollhouse has to immediately equal a Barbie’s Dream House. We got him a small modern wooden one by PLAN. We’ve since expanded our “dollhouse” collection to include a grey castle by Melissa & Doug and a spaceship by HAPE. They all have furniture and male and female characters and the boys play with them exactly like traditional dollhouses. (They are all usually grouped together, like a really, really weird little town.)

Our baby dolls all came in blue outfits, I believe, though of course they all end up naked so it doesn’t really matter. (Ezra’s favorite teddy bear “baby” is dressed in blue but is a girl, according to him. Ike’s “baby” is a stuffed Peter from A Snowy Day but is thus far a genderless entity known simply as Ike’s Baby.) We’ve gone through at least five different doll strollers — some pink, some blue. If I’m making the purchase, I go with whatever one is the cheapest. If a toy comes as a gift, I’ve noticed most people are more comfortable buying the blue or gender-neutral version and avoid the pink. That’s fine. If you don’t like the pink version, don’t buy the pink. But it might not hurt to have a pink item or two, so you’re not prematurely reinforcing the whole pink = GIRLS, NOT FOR ME, EW nonsense. Girls shouldn’t feel limited to only pink toys, and boys shouldn’t feel pressured to avoid pink toys.

My mother-in-law once spent months on eBay trying to find a Fisher Price Loving Family minivan in a gender-neutral color. She finally found one in green and it’s a huge favorite around here, no doubt. But then Ezra spotted the camper and omg omg omg he wanted that camper. My MIL offered to hunt an older version down but I told her not to bother. I bought it. It is white and hot pink. It is everything he dreamed of and more. All three of them love it.

(Though I do remember Ezra noticing that the packaging only pictured a little girl playing with the camper and being suddenly unsure of it on Christmas morning. Argh! Come on, Fisher Price. And come on to every toy manufacturer who can’t be bothered to hire a boy AND a girl model. You’re telling half of the kid population that “This Toy Isn’t For You.” That’s just a dumb marketing strategy, if you ask me.)

(As if I needed another reason to love Amazon’s plain cardboard frustration-free packaging: NO STUPID GENDER MESSAGES ON TOY PACKAGING.)

Wow. This really turned into more of a personal blog post than an “advice” column. Sorry about that. Let me summarize my “avoiding gender stereotyping with your boys’ toys” philosophy with some bullets.

  • Buy your boy whatever kind of toy he wants. Don’t let anybody make you feel weird because your son is playing with “girl” toys. It’s 2013, for God’s sake. Ain’t nobody got time for that 1950s Don Draper backwards crap. 
  • There are wonderful gender-neutral versions of most “basics” like dolls, dollhouses and pretend play options, though you may have to hunt for them or buy them primarily online.
  • Companies that make an effort to not gender stereotype with their toys’ colors and packaging are companies I’m happy to support and go the extra mile to purchase from.
  • One the other hand…don’t turn pink into something to be avoided at all costs because it’s lesser or bad or not cool. He’s going to meet a lot of little girls who really love pink. Those little girls shouldn’t be reverse-shamed for being into things that are traditionally feminine either! JUST LET KIDS BE WHO THEY ARE ALREADY.
  • That said, if I wouldn’t feel comfortable buying a certain toy for a daughter because of feminist/body image/whatever reasons, I’m not going to buy it for my sons.
  • Remember that a young child’s play is primarily modeled from the things he’s seeing and being exposed to — his toys simply allow him to explore those ideas further, and with added imagination. Make sure he has plenty of exposure to strong, awesome female characters to draw inspiration from, in books, TV…and YOU.

About the author

Amalah

http://www.amalah.com
Amalah is a pseudonym of Amy Corbett Storch. She is the author of the Advice Smackdown and Bounce Back. You can follow Amy's daily mothering adventures at Amalah. Also, it's pronounced AIM-ah-lah.

If there is a question you would like answered on the Advice Smackdown, please submit it to amyadvice@gmail.com.

Amy also documented her second pregnancy (with Ezra) in our wildly popular Weekly Pregnancy Calendar, Zero to Forty.

Amy is mother to rising first-grader Noah, preschooler Ezra, and toddler Ike.


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21 Responses to “On Little Boys & Pink Toys”

  1. vanessa Dec 06 at 8:07 pm Reply Reply

    ALSO…if you can avoid taking your kids to big box stores where toy aisles are HEAVILY gender policed, do that. Toys R Us, Buy Buy Baby, even Target and Barnes and Noble are all really horrible about this. If you can find gentler, less gender-mad places, do that instead. In my experience, indie toy/bookstores are usually much much better at this. (DC area: Child’s Play and Politics and Prose!)

  2. GradBaby Dec 06 at 8:20 pm Reply Reply

    This is the thing that is killing me – my son is also 2 and I’m trying to put all kinds of fun toys on his gift list. He’s speech delayed and his speech therapist recommended getting things like a play kitchen, doll/stroller, play house/farm, and toys replicating household items. And as I look for them, they are so gendered – it’s not just that the play house is pink, but every part of the packaging, people that go in it, etc. are “girly.” You see, girls get doll-houses, boys get castles. And as the new editions come out, they’re even more gendered. The little people play house was brown when I was a kid. Then it became purple and white. Now: pink! It is really frustrating when toys are gendered for no good reason – do men not live in houses, too? And are the houses down every street pink and purple? I’m sure he will get some pink and purple toys in the mix, but why do they all have to be either boy’s toys or girl’s toys?!

    • Lindsay Dec 08 at 6:52 pm Reply Reply

      Amen. I was horrified the first time I walked Target’s toy aisles and discovered how they were completely separated into “boy” and “girl” toys. Not that infant or toddler clothing needs to be separate, either…

      • Lisa Dec 15 at 1:37 am Reply Reply

        Totally agree!!!  I can’t ever seem to find toys at box stores that I want to buy for my 18 month old girl.  I really wanted to get her toy dishes and little people for Christmas- but all of the dishes at Target were “Princess” and the little people sets were very girly and were too dependent on electronic bells and whistles.  We ended up buying online and she’s getting Playmobil 123 zoo and Green Toys dishes… both of which are gender neutral toys.  I did pick up a pink duplo set- just because I know she will LOVE the little toy bunnies.

  3. cassie Dec 06 at 9:59 pm Reply Reply

    I love this answer! My son is 4. I’ll admit, he’s rarely at a store with toys (we’re in a really rural area) and that at Walmart he is all about the Thomas merchandise and sees NOTHING else, no matter what gender. But like Ezra, he loves his toy kitchen (gender neutral in primary colors, bought at Toys R Us) and his baby doll (formally mine!) who has only pink dresses and sleeps in an old pink laundry basket. He loves the Mickey Mouse Clubhouse, but easily admits he prefers Minnie over Mickey (and when pulled away from Thomas will pick out the Minnie things at the store over the Mickey or Donald or whoever.) Being gender neutral isn’t easy or even necessary, but I’ve found, like vanessa above, if you don’t bring them to the “in your face”  gendering stores in the first place, it’s easier. We get a lot of stuff online, as gifts, or yes, in smaller, slightly more expensive independent stores who don’t have the space or inclination to be gender specific. OH! And make sure you make the effort to let him see/explore/enjoy ‘girly’ things on tv, in books, in playsets, etc. We are big fans and supporters of Peg+Cat on TV, Olivia in books, and the girl engines for Thomas. I don’t think it’s yet occurred to him that these are GIRLS. They’re just great characters who he loves.

  4. C Smith Dec 06 at 10:21 pm Reply Reply

    I didn’t have a problem when my kids were smaller, we have boys and girls and also do in-home daycare, so we have lots of toy options. I always just bought whatever my kids were interested in without worrying about gender. But, these “tween” years are killing me. All of a sudden there are tons of “boy” toys being painted pink and marketed to girls. A good example is the girls Lego line. My girls love Legos and got a ton of these pink Legos from relatives last year. My 9 yr. old took one look at the flower shaped, preassembled pieces and said,” I bet these suck”. Language aside, she’s right, they do.

  5. A Norman Dec 06 at 10:44 pm Reply Reply

    When my 4 year old got a baby sister, his interest in pink EXPLODED.  His favorite colors are pink and purple.  He had a cast this summer – it was pink.  I have no problem with his love of pink.  Hubby is not so sure, mostly because he is worried about other kids picking on him.  And about what my son will think when he is an adult and looks at the photos – “How could you LET me wear a pink bike helmet?”  So we’re still trying to figure it out.  When they are 2 it’s easy.  It gets harder when they get older and you worry about his school mates bullying him.  And, yes, it SUCKS that you have to think about it!

    • Rachel Dec 07 at 2:52 pm Reply Reply

      It can be hard to worry about bullying. I try to remind myself that it’s the other kids who have the problem–the kids being bullied don’t need to change. I just try to remind the kids in my life of this. There are plenty of online stories about boys who like pink and such and weren’t bullied by other children, but by adults. The best thing we can do is to try not to be those adults.

  6. PJ Dec 06 at 10:47 pm Reply Reply

    Our 5 yr old son loves toys. Any toys. We have a play kitchen and dollhouses and castles and Power Rangers and My Little Pony stuff flowing out of our ears. His favorite color is pink (and his fav Power Ranger is too). He is beginning to hear some kids in his kindergarten talk about girl and boy toys and recently started talking about becoming a girl so he could play with MLP since a teacher’s assistant (!) told him only girls played with them. My complete rage meltdown over an adult authority figure saying that aside, we calmly told him that all toys were for girls AND boys. Any toy that Mom and Dad let him play with was okay and he did not have to listen to anyone else. That is the way we always looked at it – toys are for playing whether they are pink or blue or green.  If it is a toy that passes the parent review, he can play wifh it. Every parent review is different – Barbies, Bratz, Monster High, GI Joe, cap guns, swords – everyone is different. But toys are toys and not gender specific in our house.  His dad played with Barbies; I collected baseball cards as a teen. And we turned out okay!

    • Just me Dec 09 at 12:06 pm Reply Reply

      Kind of an aside but please point your son’s teacher assistant to the Bronycon movement. No seriously, google ‘Bronies’ and send those links to the TA. Yup, boys and adult men can and do love MLP!

      In general, my only issue with pink toys is that the toy in question is normally VOMITED in an eye-assaulting pink. And this is from someone who likes pink and has 2 girls and a boy!! In general, we’ve tried to veer on the ‘neutral’ territory but, naturally, our oldest daughter is the princess obsessed, baby-loving, girly-girl type. Our youngest daughter is similar to her brother in that she loves playing with cars and trains. She uses the doll strollers to race around the house as fast as possible. Kids.

  7. Brigid Keely Dec 06 at 11:41 pm Reply Reply

    FYI your link to the PLAN dollhouse is actually a link to a search for angry birds jenga.

  8. Kate Dec 07 at 4:38 am Reply Reply

    Yes! So much yes! Thank you for putting into words what I think so I don’t have to. I’ve got a two year old daughter and she is into all kinds of different things and should I have a son I hope he’s the same. All of the things that are fun are worth playing with. Regardless of their perceived gender status.

  9. Grammy Dec 07 at 3:15 pm Reply Reply

    I’m 67. I grew up with three brothers. They always got such cool toys — rocket launchers and train sets and such — and I got dolls. When I asked for a train or a truck my mother told me those were for boys only. Ever since I reached adulthood, I’ve been the “handyman” around our house because I bought my own “boy toys” and learned how to use them. My husband loves that he doesn’t have to fix things for me.

    So when I had a boy, I bought him a baby doll when he was 6 months old. I didn’t want to stigmatize him with all that sexism in play. He loved that baby doll until one day when he was almost 4 and he threw it on the floor and turned instead to his talking Herman Munster doll. With Hermie he was a friend and not a daddy. Never played with the baby again. But he loved play cooking and to help clean and do household chore things and eventually grew up to be a chef. A chef who loves jeeps and trucks and beautiful sunsets.

    My daughter came along and loved princessy things and Barbie no matter how many “boy toys” she was given. Still, her dad gave her a pocketknife when she was ten, and a set of throwing knives when she was twelve. The princess destroyed a whole section of our backyard fence practicing throwing knives. Today she still hates cooking but is still all girly-girl in so many ways, except she hates the color pink. She also knows how to handle a screwdriver and electric drill when she needs to. And presumably knives.

    My daughter’s 4-year-old son loves his play kitchen and his monster trucks equally. In his preschool, all the kids play with all the toys and no one thinks it’s odd for the boys to play with the doll house or the girls to play with the trains. For his first “homework assignment” he listed his favorite color as “pink” and his favorite toy as “a truck”. Yay! He’s not all messed up with what he’s “supposed” to like.

    We are all who we are. Let all children play with whatever toys are fun and safe. If there are any dim-witted people who make fun of a girl for wanting a truck or a basketball, or a boy for wanting a doll or a pink piano, try to limit your kid’s exposure to those people if they won’t stop.

    The kids will be all right. They’re smart.

  10. Jennifer Dec 09 at 12:59 pm Reply Reply

    Oh, our daughter LOVES the Loving Family Camper!  We do a lot of camping so it was a great find for her.  I also don’t get why its mostly pink, quite a bit of the accessories are more neutral even if they tend toward pastels.  And don’t get me started on the Lego Friends thing.  We have some of both but we all prefer the regular Lego sets.
    I still don’t understand why several baby/toddler toys come in two options: one a general primary color mix, the other a pink and purple explosion.  And its not just one or two things, there are several that way.  I guess its better than having the other be all blue/green boy instead of general, but still..  I always requested the more generic one, I wanted my daughter to know ALL of her colors, not just pink and purple.  She loves tractors and trucks too.  When she pretend plays, sometimes she’s a princess and sometimes she’s a ghost/monster.  I like that she knows both are ok.  I think the best we can do is encourage them toward a wide range of toys and hope for the best (and to reinforce through words and actions that all toys are for all kids)

  11. Helen Dec 09 at 2:07 pm Reply Reply

    this isn’t helpful advice, just an anecdote: when I was still breastfeeding my youngest I used to babysit my friend’s little boy. One day she discovered him breastfeeding his toy truck! How’s that for challenging gender stereotypes?

  12. JenVegas Dec 09 at 2:45 pm Reply Reply

    Oh mansy. THIS so hard. My just turned 3yo son all of a sudden a month ago started asking me if specific toys were for boys or girls. WHAAATTTT? My pat answer is that any toy is for anyone who likes to play with it. But I don’t know where they pick this stuff up from! (Daycare I’m guessing mostly. I hope…It better not be from my husband.) It makes me sad and angry on behalf of 7 year old me who only wanted The Millennium Falcon for Christmas and got stuck with Barbie dolls instead.

  13. Susan:) Dec 09 at 4:27 pm Reply Reply

    I kind of have the opposite problem of the OP. I have two nieces who I care for daily and it is hard for me to give them non girly toys because I live them! I don’t like pink, but I love dolls and my little ponies and basically the toys I loved as a kid. Mostly dolls for me! But I do realize that I want my nieces to be more well rounded! They have blocks and cars and non pink kitchen toys and potato heads. But they also have a ton of dolls and ponies. Because I had a large collection myself that they get to play with. But I never tell them things are only for girls or boys. I definitely encourage them to choose other colors besides pink all the time. They like the Barbie and princess dolls, but they have never liked baby dolls. We are going to try out Legos and see how they do.

  14. kimm Dec 09 at 11:55 pm Reply Reply

    My 2 yr old son wanted to be Velma for Halloween. I got him some Velma red pants to go with the skirt costume, he tried on the skirt but I suggested that he wear the pants cause usually boys dont wear skirts here:) didnt want neighbors in this macho state to laugh at him. He is obsessed with Scooby Doo, we happened upon a marathon on Nick. And Velma is the one who solves all the mysteries, my son noticed.

  15. Katie @ Pick Any Two Dec 13 at 11:26 am Reply Reply

    I think your story goes to show just how powerful society’s messages about gender are. Even though you have done everything you can not to pigeon hole your son into one way of thinking – into one COLOR – he still got that message. Until society as a whole does more to challenge traditional gender roles, those messages will still be heard by our children. Our job, then, is to teach our children to challenge those messages, to think critically about them. And, like you say, we must teach both boys and girls that any differences between the genders that do exist do not mean that one is better than the other. 

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