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On Little Boys & Pink Toys

On Little Boys & Pink Toys

By Amalah

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.
Amalah
About the Author

Amy Corbett Storch

Amalah

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 Ama...

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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