I was at a child’s birthday party/dinner last night and we were discussing pedicures. One of the boys was running around with his nails done and I had stated that I had asked my son if he ever wanted to do that (for he was welcome to come with me) to which he assertively said “no”. When I retold the story I included my pointing out to him that they have “plenty of ‘boy’ colors” to which a friend of mine (appropriately) chided me with the question: “What is a ‘boy’ color?”
She and I both knew the actual text of the conversation was my attempt to clarify to my son that if he wanted to have his nails done a color other than pink or red that that was available these days, and that my use of “boy” was to appeal to a child who had already had societally-driven color choices drilled into him; and that her attempt to tease me was the sort of thing friends do. I am sexist in some ways but not that one. That said it did open the wider discussion of gender color stereotypes, which is one reason I like hanging out with the people I hang out with, because we didn’t have to devolve into a contrived political correctness or a stunted conversation about color choice equality.
To provide some background: one friend has a boy and girl each, another has the same, a third has two girls. I have one boy, and elect to dote on girls by proxy. But this conversation, plus a recent review of the Mindware catalog, got me thinking.
It’s no secret that the toy aisles of Target, or Toys R Us, or really any other mainstream store, are segregated into three types: “Gender Neutral” toys, “Boy” toys, and “Girl” toys. The “Girl” toys aisles are helpfully marked by pink signage and include things like dolls, baby dolls, Barbie dolls, domestic dress-up games, and (possibly) Pink Legos. The “Boy” toys aisles are manfully black and blue and red and include Nerf guns, trucks, traditional Legos, new movie-themed Legos, and Legos that look fairly militaristic. In the middle you have card games, balls, and Slip-and-Slides.
Why do my friends’ daughter’s Legos need to be pink? They are defaulted to build houses and ice cream shops, fine: you can build a perfectly serviceable house out of red and blue and yellow Legos, because we all did that when we were growing up. And if they are red or yellow or blue you don’t have to build a house or ice cream shop, you can build a rocket. Or a scale model of the Revolutionary War.
Why does her son’s Medieval Lego kit have only armed soldiers? Anyone who spent time in their History class knows that most of those soldiers were buffeted 10:1 by peasantry, either in terms of someone to go get the grain that fed them to someone who took care of the horses. There’s no queen, no princess, no baker-lady (for gender roles *were* explicit in those times and so Lego would be perfectly correct to have them in a set identifying as that part of history). But no females of any kind can be found in the kit. This very manful Lego kit is full of manly manliness and action. Girls need not apply.
The Star-Wars new Lego minifigures this year at Target have two (2) females out of what looks to be about 50 new minifigures. They are Leia in the gold bikini and Padme in the ripped-midriff shirt. Not Leia in her Cloud City costume, or Padme in her full regalia (Lego has found a way to make capes, they could’ve rocked this). (If you go to lego.wikia.com you can see the full minifigure line-up, and there are plenty of other female Star Wars minifigures. But they’re not on display at the Target.)
Why must Goldieblox, that bastion of gender correction in educational toys, be pink for girls? The whole point to Goldieblox was to get girls interested in engineering, to rail against the pink conformist aisles of toys for girls. Why, then, is it pink? Why are the cookware “play sets” for children almost always manned by a girl? My son loves to cook. But the photos on the box are clearly stating that this is a largely female domain.
While there are darned few pink toys in Mindware, there are far more boys in the pages of toys that are about engineering and far more girls shown next to the beading kits. If we can’t get our arched-brow, intelligent-snowflake-producing toy catalogs to play fair how do we ever hope to rescue our girls from the clutches of Barbie?
From the 20’s to WWII, the color “ownership” between boys and girls was inverted: boys wore pink and girls wore blue. Before that children wore white (which, if you think about it, is practical as long as you have a ton of bleach lying about). After WWII this reversed and we have the color “preferences” we see today. With all the challenges our kids have and will have (underfunded schools, bullying made easier via the internet — and this is not just kids, as adults have been doing that for years) can we please not heap upon them color “correctness”?
When you’re first pregnant the question you are asked is “do you know yet if it’s a boy or a girl?” Some parents elect to make it a surprise and there’s that moment of “discomfort” for the families because now they “have” to shop for yellow or green baby gear. I honestly don’t think the baby will care if s/he is housed in blue or pink; the larger purpose is the social signaling device for this tiny creature to his/her audience as to what his/her gender is. I’m considering making onesies for babies that say things like “Manly enough to wear pink” and “Girly enough to wear blue” just to poke fun at this.
We live in a country of astounding wealth and opportunity and we have larger problems than the color or gender appropriateness of toys. The only way to shape and change the offerings is to vote with your dollars; it’s effective but it takes more patience than some of us have.