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Monday
Mar122012

Gender and Kids: Fitting In Versus Getting Sucked In 

The pink, the Barbies, the "Daddy's little" princess, the new LEGO Friends, the shopaholic, the American Girl dolls, the beauty queen and the the very pink happy homemaker. Each time someone raises an objection about the toys, the stereotypes, and the clothing that is marketed to our girls from birth forward, others brush their concern aside.

It isn't a big deal.

It is just make-believe.

She just likes pink. What is wrong with pink?

She's just trying to be like her mommy.

She just wants to feel special. Doesn't everybody want to feel special?

It is just one toy. She plays with cars too.


No one item is THE one tool of oppression that is going to alter the path of our girls forever. Not the colour pink, a Barbie doll, a princess onesie, or a bright pink plastic kitchen.  One toy, one clothing item, one choice isn't the issue. It is the complete onslaught that begins at birth.

The Pink Aisle


By now, you've probably seen the video of Riley, the little girl ranting about stores wanting girls to buy princesses and boys to buy super heroes when really girls and boys can both like both of those things. She's livid and maybe some other girls are too. However, it seems as though most girls simply accept it. They observe what is happening around them, take in the marketing messages that are being sent to them, bow to the peer pressure that is being imposed on them, and they make choices about what they like and don't like, consciously or subconsciously, based on what society tells them they should like.

Then there is the video of the two little girls that Ellen sent on a shopping spree at Toys R' Us. Unlike Riley, these girls do not seem to have any problem with the pinkification of their lives. They show up at the store dressed like pink princesses, freak out over all the pink stuff in the store, ignore the non-pink aisles of the store and leave with shopping carts full of pink, pink, and more pink.

Gender Divide


Over time, the gender divide appears to be widening. On their websites, in catalogs, and even in the store, retailers divide toys into "boy toys" and "girl toys". The number of toys that companies would classify as unisex is decreasing. This is happening for two reasons. Manufacturers of toys are increasingly shying away from the creation of toys that could be enjoyed equally by both boys and girls, instead seeking to further exploit gender stereotypes by making more and more toys that cater to the extremes. More toys for boys that involve fights and battles. More toys for girls that focus on beauty and everything fancy. What happened to boys and girls playing side-by-side with neutral coloured building blocks, nature puzzles, or using a basic LEGO set to build a house or a castle? Or passing a nice red bike down from big sister to little brother. No, with the gender divide, parents who have boys and girls will need to buy at least two of everything.

The author of the blog Feminist Frequency looked into this, focusing in particular on the history of the marketing of LEGO to children. Take a look: One quote stood out to me in this video while discussing the new LEGO Friends line, which is marketed specifically to girls:

While the entire concept and marketing of the Friends theme is deeply problematic, it’s not without some small merits. The emphasis on sharing, cooperation and nurturing are values that I would love to see infused in toys for children of all genders. Even the title of Friends draws attention to the importance of relationship building, however, these values are almost exclusively found in media and toys for girls and are wrapped up in harmful gender stereotypes, meanwhile these positive values are almost entirely absent in toys aimed at boys. The repercussions of this can be grave, relegating the responsibility for fostering healthy relationships and communications on women and simultaneously reinforcing to boys and men that using violence is a practical options for solving conflicts, even interpersonal ones.


I know I've often been annoyed at the newer LEGO toys because it seems like kids put them together once and then never do anything with them again. I much prefer the older LEGO sets where you can build something new every day. But this video gave me even more reasons to dislike the way that LEGO is marketed and sold these days.

Girls Do X, Boys Do Y


What all of this leads to is societal expectations about what girls should do and what boys should do. Girls, to some extent, are allowed to venture into what is considered "boy" territory, and are even applauded for it. As my friend Alexandria wrote, her daughter Story's love of "boy" things was celebrated:

As a toddler, my daughter adored trains and cars; Lightning McQueen in particular. We bought her boys' underwear because the girls' ones had kitties and crowns, when what Story wanted were puppies and automobiles. Nobody thought it was at all strange for her to like these things. They championed her cause: There is no such thing as a "boy toy"! Girl power!


A few years later, however, people's reaction to her son's interests was somewhat different. After showing pictures of him in princess and fairy dress-up clothes that he likes, she wrote:

When we take Story to the grocery store in these outfits, people fawn over her. But when people see my son wearing the same things, we get a lot of funny looks and sideways glances. Some "tsk-ing" as we walk by. Why is this? Why can my toddler son not embrace whatever makes his sweet little heart happy? Why do people embrace my daughter enjoying tools and the mechanics of cars yet still shy away from a little boy who wants to twirl and sparkle? Most of all: what's it of anyone's concern? Are they intimidated by his affinity for things we've labelled "girly"? Do they think we're doing him an injustice?


Girls liking boy things is accepted by society, to some extent. They can go after the power job, grab the (pink) power tools, play hockey, and break glass ceilings. But, as some feminist scholars have underlined, there is a hidden inconsistency in many of the "We Girls Can Do Anything" messages (like the ones Barbie puts out in its "Barbie I Can Be" campaign). As I wrote on Care2, when reporting on research by Nathalie Elaine Meza Garcia:

Women are able to enter into new spaces and break glass ceilings, but they still have to be beautiful, nurturing mothers, good homemakers, and doting wives. Essentially, women have demanded the right to do anything that men can do, but they have not shed any of their old roles, duties or subjugation in doing so.


That is not to say that women shouldn't be beautiful, be nurturing mothers, be homemakers, and so on. The point is that if a woman has a partner and a career, there shouldn't be an assumption or expectation that she will also be the one cleaning the toilets at home, that she will always have hot legs and great make-up, that she'll be the one to miss work to pick up a sick kid from school, and that she'll spice up the bedroom every single night. When women take on new roles, men need to do so too. There needs to be a re-balancing of the workload and of expectations.

Fitting In Versus Getting Sucked In




What bothers me about pink, isn't pink. What bothers me about Barbie, isn't Barbie. What bothers me about little princess onesies, isn't the little princess onesies. What bothers me is the expectation and pressure for girls to like all of those things. And the expectation and pressure for boys to abhor them.

I remember Julian's first Halloween at school. When he came home and we asked him what costumes the other kids in his class had, the answer for every single girl in the class was "princess". Yes, they were ALL princesses. I remember too the day he told me his favourite colours were brown and blue, because "boys like boring colours and girls like pretty colours". He was expressing his preference based on what society thinks he should like, while also expressing how he felt about that.

Day in and day out, I see the peer pressure and the marketing pressure telling my children what they should like and who they should be. I see increased pressure for more homogeneity within a gender and a greater gap between genders. Are they just giving girls and boys what they want? Or is there more to it than that?

In the New York Times, Peggy Orenstein explains that there are some difference between boys and girls play preferences, but they are exacerbated and exploited by the toy industry:

At issue, then, is not nature or nurture but how nurture becomes nature: the environment in which children play and grow can encourage a range of aptitudes or foreclose them. So blithely indulging — let alone exploiting — stereotypically gendered play patterns may have a more negative long-term impact on kids’ potential than parents imagine. And promoting, without forcing, cross-sex friendships as well as a breadth of play styles may be more beneficial. There is even evidence that children who have opposite-sex friendships during their early years have healthier romantic relationships as teenagers.


As a parent, I am torn. I want my children to see the full range of possibilities that is open to them, for play, for friendships, for relationships, for interests, and for eventual career options (no, Princess is not a potential career option for more than a small handful of girls). But at the same time, I also want my children to fit in and, because I had so much trouble fitting in as a child, I understand them making choices in order to fit in. So when Emma asks for the latest pink plastic stereotype and bad body image reinforcing toy for her birthday, I struggle with the decision about whether to buy it for her. Are her preferences and her choices truly coming from inside her or are they coming societal pressure?

Ultimately, we seek a balance. There is exploding pink princess stuff in our home, but there are also other toys and games and activities that encourage diverse interests. I do worry, however, that the balance we strive for in our home will never survive the pink tsunami.

This is the first in a series of four posts looking critically at the way society, corporations and media influence the role girls and women are expected to play in society. The posts are written by me (Annie @ PhD in Parenting) and are generously sponsored by Pigtail Pals.


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Reader Comments (78)

I will refrain from writing a book about my irritation on this. I will, however, share two things. The first is my son. At five he wanted pink tape on his hockey stick (he plays on a team). I have no problem with him liking pink or having a pink stick. However, I know my son would be uncomfortable defending his choice. So, I was unsure of which action to take. Do I let him get it and put him in a position that he will not like or do I say no? In the end we explained to him that some kids might ask why he wanted pink. That some people think it is a girly color and may ask why he wanted a pink stick. That was enough for him to say he did not want it. I still (two years later) feel guilty about it. But at the same time I think he would have easily wound up in tears if he was put in a position to defend himself without warning. I still don't know what I should have done.

Secondly, I have an etsy shop where I make children's clothes and my most popular items are all the "boy character" dresses. Buzz Lightyear, Spiderman, Lightning McQueen, etc. The girls love them! And all the moms talk about how stores don't make them. Which they don't. That's how I started making clothes. My daughter wanted a Buzz Lightyear dress. It amuses me because I just don't get the boy vs girl thing.

March 12, 2012 | Unregistered CommenterUpstatemamma

I have a 2 yo boy and 2 mo girl, and was already stressed about all the boy stuff before she was born. Now I have had to throw a fit to avoid receiving pink baby clothes, and imagine myself giving back or donating pinkified toys. What do I do when she asks for them though? AGH! Totally stressed and she's still an infant. Look forward to reading the rest of these posts.

March 12, 2012 | Unregistered CommenterJennifer PM

I think a clear, financial reason for the pinkification of toys is this: if you have a gender neutral toy, it can be shared between an eldest daughter and a younger son, and then passed down to cousins/friends regardless of gender -- 1 toy between 4 people (for instance). If you make a pink toy and a blue toy, Great Auntie Mildred, bless her heart, will see the pink version in stores for eldest daughter and get it for her. The parents, or grandparents, when younger son comes along buy the SAME toy in blue, because heaven knows boys couldn't play with pink.

The problem isn't that every single girls' toy is pink - the problem is that boys aren't "allowed" to play with those toys. The stigma against boys playing with dolls is far greater than that against girls playing with trucks.

March 12, 2012 | Unregistered CommenterMary

Great post Annie. As a mother of two girls this bothers me a lot, even in New Zealand where the demarcation isn't as advanced as in North America. I also really worry for the sensitive gentle boys out there who don't fit in to the macho mold so I was pleased to see a group of 2 year old boys at my daughters creche yesterday wearing the lovely rainbow fairy dresses. Still, as they get older it will be considered less acceptable.

The reasons why it's worse for boys to be feminine than vice versa is of course that the feminine is less valued in our culture than the masculine.

I'm sure you've seen it but the ReelGirl blog covers these issues really well.

March 12, 2012 | Unregistered CommenterTamara in NZ

We had the Leap Frog table when my son was a baby. It was blue. I didn't really think about it. A lot of our stuff was blue. I saved it and everything else because I knew we would have more kids. Then my daughter came along. Don't ya know for her first birthday my ILs bought her THE SAME Leap Frog table in pink. Because she "needed" the girl one. It is the SAME TABLE. I was flabbergasted.

March 12, 2012 | Unregistered CommenterUpstatemamma

i am coming out on the other side of the story, with my 16 year old boy and 12 year old girl. I have questioned, tested, railed against and given in many times over the years I have been parenting.
What I have come to realize is that it is the discussion around these questions, the including of your kids in the decision making process and the "whys" of why you choose certain toys/games/clothing/tv shows/music/friends that makes for children capable of decoding what they want out of the world.
I agree - it is not the pink, the barbie, the blue, the rescue hero that decides for your child who and what they will become, it is the expectations ( please let their be expectations of greatness around every child ) of the world they live in - most importantly starting at home.
The kids who are clueless, living in a world overrun by stereotypes? Take a hard look at their parents. Not everyone is able to make the best long term decision for whatever reason ( not income based for sure...I know tons of people with more money than sense ) - it is often just the easy way out. Or they have just never been asked to think about it. Or they do not have the time to think about it.
In our life, there has always been balance. I have kids who understand gender differences and gender imbalances. My son sat through Misrepresentation to make me happy but came out of it wiser - and reminded that he makes a difference with his choices. My daughter? She got pissed off and that is okay too:).
Entering serious teenage years in our home, THIS is when I am seeing the payoff in my kids. Good kids, good choices shaped by a childhood of talking about the whys and the why nots. Neither of my big kids has quite fit the mold of a *traditional* boy or girl. And we celebrate this. Now, with my third? Who knows? So far, he is following in his siblings footsteps:).

March 12, 2012 | Unregistered Commenterangela

I'm looking forward to hearing your thoughts, Annie. I was adamant that my little girl would not be a princess and she has embraced pink whole-heartedly. I remember once she told me her favorite colour was turquoise - I asked her why and she sadly said that only babies like pink (I have no idea who told her that, but she was torn between her favorite colour and being a big kid). I told her that she could like the colour pink for as long as she wanted and nobody could stop her, and I guess that was a turning point for us.

Everywhere I turn there is backlash against the pinkification of toys for girls, and I get it. But I also get frustrated when boys are applauded for choosing pink and I feel like I'm letting down woman-kind when I get my kid a pink bike. She just likes the colour. She doesn't understand the politics behind it yet.

Anyway, I'm sure you'll have lots for me to think about.

March 12, 2012 | Unregistered CommenterTamara Watson

As a mom of 2 boys, I often think that it would be easier to be more gender neutral if I had girls. It's more acceptable for girls to cross lines than it is for boys. My 5yo doesn't think twice about wearing a pink shirt to school, or having a care bears or strawberry shortcake band aid on. On the other hand, I ask him about his day and if anyone said anything and every time he has something "girly" on, several kids comment on it. I try to talk with him and give him the vocabulary to to "defend" himself but I think he gets caught off guard in the moment. It's hard to figure out where to draw the line between letting him be "different" and what's just asking to get bullied. Thankfully this is his only year in public school so most of these problems will be greatly lessened once this year is over.

March 12, 2012 | Unregistered CommenterLisa

I am so glad that you wrote that last paragraph Annie, because it captures my experience exactly. I struggle so much with this, and struggled with not fitting in (immigrant parents! mixed race! small! nerdy! etc etc) as a kid. I really don't want my girls to have to go through what I did. BUT I don't want them to unquestioningly ask for "stuff" and accept gender stereotyping to the point of internalization. I want to talk about these issues with other moms but most of them don't want to hear it, give exactly the same rationalizations as you did at the beginning of this post, and as much as it drives me crazy, I can't just keep ranting about things. I try to just drop nuggets into conversation, send occasional (ok, fine, weekly) links to articles like this one, and set a strong example for my kids. It just feels like such a steep uphill battle.

March 13, 2012 | Unregistered Commentereva

I have a 6-month-old boy, and it is incredible how much we already feel the pressure to make sure every toy, article of clothing, etc. is appropriately gender-specific. (Why on earth does it matter that he has a pink sleep sack???)
When I was a kid, I played with cars and tool boxes, hated dresses and anything pink, and loved running around outside and getting dirty...and that was pretty much ok. It was even a source of pride, as I got older, that I wasn't a "girly girl". As much as we talk about girls being sexualized and princess-ified, I think in some ways it's actually harder for boys; they have way less leeway. They need to like sports, cars, dinosaurs, and/or action heroes - and that's it. A girl who's a tomboy is far more acceptable than a boy who's "girly" or "sensitive".
Do any parents of older boys have tips or stories to share about their sons' non-conventional choices of toys/clothes/interests?

March 13, 2012 | Unregistered CommenterChristina

If my son ever wears a tiara and someone has the audacity to "tsk tsk" within my earshot... Oh man, I will THROW DOWN.

It's a lot like body image issues in that it's such a double-edged sword. In trying to stomp down skinny as the only ideal, it sets naturally skinny girls up for ridicule. The same goes for the pink stuff - There is nothing wrong with pink & dolls & fashion, but it shouldn't be the ONLY option. It's tough. My toddler-aged son prefers trucks to dolls, so I find myself almost pushing the latter on him. Which isn't good either.

Honestly, I feel like just integrating the damn toy aisles would win half the battle. Even if the same shit stays pink, just keeping it all together so that kids could take some from each column. But it's absolutely a marketing ploy. Toys that are passed down through siblings don't make money.

Like you say, it is the expectation of behaviour and of future dreams and goals that these gender specific toys create that is the problem, not the toys in and of themselves.

I've just written a post actually, all about that expectation of women as mothers, and how they should behave and feel as a result of this sort of social conditioning. I thought perhaps as it was so relevant to what was written here that it might be ok to leave a link?

It really seems to have struck a chord with a lot of my readers, so if you are interested it's here: http://www.gappytales.com/2012/03/doesnt-mean-i-dont-love-my-kids.html

March 13, 2012 | Unregistered CommenterGappy

My mother did the same thing. My daughter has a pink scooter/push toy, and my mother bought a blue one for my son who isn't even born yet.

I struggle with this gender divide regarding clothes. We had no problem dressing our daughter in "boy" clothes and when my husband bought things for her they tended to be boys. But as I'm going thru her clothes deciding what to keep for my son and what to give a way, I'm having a hard time crossing over in the other direction. I think I mostly don't want to get looks or answer stranger's questions.

March 13, 2012 | Unregistered CommenterOlivia

"Are her preferences and her choices truly coming from inside her or are they coming societal pressure?" <-- Have you asked her?

I don't know how much television your children watch, or how much commercialism is allowed in your children's school. But I'd venture a guess that if kids in their school are allowed to wear character clothing, or bring plastic toys to school, or are allowed to watch television at home with cartoon characters or toy commercials are shown, then the preferences are not coming from inside as much as from outside pressures/expectations. Even if no one is saying to her, "you should buy Barbie", if she sees Barbie on her friends' sneakers, you'd bet that gets into her head.

I agree with the basis of your article, I really do. It makes me boiling mad when I see garbage like "science" kits marketed to girls to make perfume & makeup (gag) or toy websites divided by "girls" and "boys"; the designations aren't necessary and they certainly aren't beneficial, and they reinforce stereotypes that boys are brainy and girls... aren't.

But honestly, what happened to just not buying/watching/being exposed to the garbage that you disagree with and TALKING ABOUT IT with your kids? If people stop buying the gender-targeted stuff, and start buying the creative play stuff instead and tell your children WHY... kids will benefit, and companies will start to get the message.

If I don't like something that my daughter or son picks out, I say why I don't like it, and we don't buy it. We talk about things like the "pink aisle" and the "action figure aisle" and "character clothes" - my kids don't have barbies or princesses or superheros or spongebob shirts... because who wants to play with an already dressed princess in a ready-made molded plastic castle when you can build a castle or design your own dress and who wants to wear spongebob on their shirt when he's a grumpy guy and the tye-dye shirt you make yourself is much cooler?

We don't watch commercial television and we don't have cable TV - and I tell them why. Their school does not allow character clothing, backpacks, lunchboxes, etc., and they explain why to the children. I'm so surprised more schools don't have that policy. Kids just don't need to be walking commercials.

To be honest, my kids just don't ask for things like princess dresses for Halloween or shoot-em-up action figures. They DO ask for books, building toys, and new card and board games. That's not accidental.

The most-often-played-with toys in our house are open-play creative items: legos (which you can buy "basic bricks" without theme or gender specification on their website and/or on ebay, used) magformers, perler beads, or science/technology-based things like snap circuits or, board games.

There are myriad toys and games available for kids which AREN'T gender specific and which DO encourage creative thinking and open play. There are TONS of movies and shows which focus on REAL things and learning, not cartoons, and fighting, and reinforcing gender roles. THESE are the items which parents should be purchasing if you really want to break down the stereotypes and send the toy companies a message that the gender-specific toys that only do one thing just. aren't. interesting.

March 13, 2012 | Unregistered Commenterkelly @kellynaturally

"Good kids, good choices shaped by a childhood of talking about the whys and the why nots" <-- EXACTLY.

March 13, 2012 | Unregistered Commenterkelly @kellynaturally

Sadly, the patriarchy enforces the gender norms about boys/men far more strictly than the gender norms for girls/women. To me, it's about devaluing women but it hurts boys in more ways than we're willing to admit.

March 13, 2012 | Unregistered CommenterJoyce

Amen, amen, amen. I'm a longtime Pigtail Pals reader and mother to two daughters (4 and 2) and for a long time I was sort of "go with the flow" when it came to girly stuff and just tried to maintain balance in gendered stuff in our house. Now I'm actively resisting pinkification/princessy stuff and needing more resources about how to DEPROGRAM my 4yo before she gets to school and things REALLY get ugly.

March 13, 2012 | Unregistered CommenterLauren

If you want to be told you are defective or missing something then consume marketing. It's that way with everything, not just kids toys (you write about it for other domains too). The solution for yourself is to avoid marketing, but you're probably right to be concerned about society as a whole. Even if one is able to protect themselves, the others who were given identity by marketing will sometimes pressure other kids or replicate the stereotype in real life.

I love this post. As a parent of a two year old girl the "pink tsunami" (great description) is something I often worry about and am faced with in the toy and department store. We`ve been pretty careful to make sure our daughter is exposed to a variety of toys and, so far, she seems to gravitate towards cars and airplanes and building blocks. Her daycare provider and grandmother have both commented that she doesn`t like dolls or `girly`toys. It always interests me how people gender toys and even clothing. What makes a doll girly or a car boyish...Anyhow, I think that the intense social (peer) pressure will really kick in in a year or so and I`m trying to prepare myself for it. I`m not going to ban princesses and pink from the house but, like you, I think I`ll be striving for a balance. I want to try to develop her critical thinking skills as much as I can and part of that is not forcing my opinions on her either. I`m doing that by encouraging her to enjoy books (stories abotu a variety of topics, not only princesses!) and leading by example: I express my enjoyment of fashion and style but also of loud rock music. My husband and I try to demonstrate a sharing of domestic work and I am clear with her that, although I work at home I am still working, which is the same as Daddy going to an office. She`s two, so I keep it pretty light but I see the value in this from an early age. Hopefully we can have simple discussions about gender as she gets older and I want her to know that I will always be available to answer questions and chat about these things.
I also sometimes teach a gender and popular culture class (I`m a grad student) which I LOVE. The class draws in students from across the disciplinary board so, while I do get students who are well versed in feminist theories and approaches I also get students who have never taken a wmst class before. One of the things we talk about is how early gendered marketing begins and we look at commercials for Barbie and GI Joe from the 50`s and 60`s as well as contemporary material. I find this exercise useful because one of the arguments I hear a lot is that feminism isn`t needed any more, that we have achieved equality, that we have freedom of choice (postfeminism). Comparisons to `how things used to be`are common and to actually do those comparisons can be shocking for students to see how, really, little `progress`has been made especially in terms of gendered marketing of toys. These classes always draw out a really lively, productive discussion and a lot of students describe how they never really looked at or thought about how toys were marketed before. As you said in your post, we often tend to write it off as harmless or even `natural`. Stopping and analyzing advertising (and other popular culture texts) carefully is an incredibly valuable exercise in fostering critical thinking. Students (I hope) learn about the value of interrogating everyday texts and practices and thinking about how the `fluff`on tv or in the media might be worth taking seriously. Having said all that, I also try to emphasize that it is also problematic to write us off as passive, befuddled audiences who are simply and easily manipulated by advertisers and media producers. It`s not as simple as that at all. We all interpret the world we encounter in diverse ways and we are often more critical and analytical than we give eachother credit for. Often, we take up these texts and objects in ways not intended or expected by producers. I can remember playing Barbies with my friend and we would use the dolls to act out detective stories and solve mysteries (there may have been a lot of Nancy Drew reading going on...).
This is turning into a bit of an essay but your post really touched a chord with me. Thank you for the great discussion and for all the great video clips (I may show some to my students later this year!)
Georgia

March 13, 2012 | Unregistered CommenterGeorgia

I love that we are all thinking about these things. I have definitely put thought into this and have chose to buy educational toys because I want my children to use their brains. These are by nature gender neutral. However I personally don't want my son to be totally girly. I wouldn't care if he liked the color pink and I wouldn't actively push the color blue either. But there is no way he's painting his nails red and dressing like a transvestite child. That said, I'm more laid back and am interested in discovering who he is and what he likes but I am also here to mold him to be a strong man and to facilitate his genetic blueprint in becoming that. I'm not here to fight that or confuse him. He's not some experimental hybrid. I do want him to be sensitive, caring and communicative as well. It's not all or nothing but at the end of the day I want him to be able to defend the weak among us whether it be women, children, elderly or the feminine males. I want our girls to be strong as well and be able to pick up a gun and know how to use it. But I personally love being female and totally embrace femininity but can get down and go camping sans make up. Again, it's not all or nothing but gender roles when not taken to the extremes is totally healthy and beneficial. It IS all about balance and the kids will self direct at the end of the day.

March 13, 2012 | Unregistered CommenterVirginia H.

As a preschool teacher, I encourage my children to accept what others might like without judgment. I let them know that they don't have to like what others like, but they should respect it, because it's the other person's, not theirs.

I challenge their statements that something is 'only for girls' or 'only for boys'. I ask them why. I ask them why a boy can't like pink. Pink is just another colour choice, another colour anyone can choose to like. Why can't girls like Batman, or Star Wars? I tell them I like those things, and I don't really like pink. I like green and blue.

One of the things I do early in the year is to read the story of "William's Doll", about a boy who wanted a doll to care for. I ask them if their daddies take care of them and hug and kiss them. They all say yes, whether girl or boy. I ask them what's wrong with a boy pretending to be a daddy?

While I can only do so much, the children still get bombarded with those things at home, I'm glad that in my class, they have a safe place to express themselves in a way that's true to them, and can learn to respect each other's differences, and even stand up for each other to defend the other person's choices and opinions. And I love to watch them grow to be who they were meant to be.

Because it's not about girl/boy, black/white, gay/straight. We're all people, we need to treat each other like the people they are, and expect to BE treated like the person they are. Worthy of life, worthy of love, and worthy of choice.

March 13, 2012 | Unregistered CommenterLissatRandom

That's always a tough issue when it comes to boys. What I would suggest is to give him the tools to defend his choice, give him the words to use and don't let him go unprepared. Ask him to tell you what he would say if someone asked him, and what to do if others didn't want to understand. I think if you did this and he still decided not to, he would still know that you care enough to help him, and you support his decision, even if others don't.

<3

March 13, 2012 | Unregistered CommenterLissatRandom

I ask them if their daddies take care of them and hug and kiss them. They all say yes, whether girl or boy. I ask them what’s wrong with a boy pretending to be a daddy?

I love that point! in fact, one of the biggest turn ons for women is a man that is a nurturing father and husband. The man is even more attractive when helps by taking out the garbage, washes the dishes and prepares a meal! We do a disservice to boys if we remove these qualities (nurturing, sensitive, cooperative) from them. Ultimately our sons will be spouses one day and how would we like a husband who is a bad father and emotionally unavailable as a husband? Succumbing to the marketing directed at boys and girls can result in men and women who are totally disconnected from one another.

March 13, 2012 | Unregistered CommenterVirginia H.

Really great post. It's interesting, I find, that we rage against pink but seemingly ignore the pressure on our boys. I've talked and talked and talked this issue to death, and have no idea what the solutions are, but I know that in our house, we embrace whatever the kids want to gravitate towards. Thanks for linking to my post. :)

March 13, 2012 | Unregistered CommenterAlexandria

Back in my youth (the 80's) I really wanted a remote control vehicle --of any sort. I lucked out and my dad got me a Barbie ATV, but it was VERY pink. I put up with the pink because I wanted a vehicle. I could never understand why Barbie needed a pink ATV when red was cooler and brown mud proof.
Claudia's favorite color is blue, but sometimes she'll correct herself and ask if her favorite color is pink. She does go to pre-school once a week and the Kid Zone when I go to the gym, so the toy selection there plus what her peers say/do do affect her. Pre-schoolers already having to deal with peer pressure *sigh*.

March 13, 2012 | Unregistered CommenterFlautaMom

I played with GI Joes and Barbiesgrowing up. My kids will play with what they want and what is safe and healthy. If I have a newborn boy, he will wear some of Cora's pink clothes.

March 13, 2012 | Unregistered CommenterKristine

Jennifer, I hear you. However if you give her the tools she needs to make her own choices then wearing pink as a infant won't make her a subservient woman. It's a color, it won't define who she becomes if you are aware enough as a parent to teach her to follow her own path.

March 13, 2012 | Unregistered CommenterAmy TR

I worry that the pendulum is swinging too far and people are going along with the anti-pink movement with as little thought as the went along with it for many decades.

I believe the key skills I need to teach my kids are to facilitate their interest in diverse activities, follow their interests, to avoid the pressures of marketing, to be who they want to be. I have 4 girls. For me the important thing is to 'create a check' for their choices, if it is pink dolls one day, OK. If it is blue legos the next, OK. They need to play with safe, age approp. toys some are educational, some are fun, some are both.

I worry about the vilification of pink infant clothes etc. Is it a substantial enough argument? Do we actually have data to imply that pink clothes and an interest in princesses will impact my daughters negatively as independent adults? I believe I can bring up kids who are smarter than this, even if they sleep in a pink painted room wearing pink PJs. I guess time will tell.

March 13, 2012 | Unregistered CommenterAmy TR

This, Annie, is the best post you have ever written, bar none.

Yes, yes, yes, to all of it.

My daughter was obsessed with princess and pink, and it was killing me as a feminist (obviously) and as a Christian (the obsession with looks rather than actions and behaviours, the focus on self-indulgence rather than service, the idealization of the rich and powerful over the meek and poor, etc.)

This winter, she discovered women's professional surfing, thank goodness. She is now obsessed with surfing, athleticism, hard work and courage. Her hero is Bethany Hamilton, who survived a shark attack and went on to become a professional surfer with one arm. She is learning to surf and will go to surf school in Tofino once old enough, if she still wants to.

I am so glad she has found a positive, strong, brave, hardworking role model. They are rare for girls and women in the mass media -- but everywhere once we start looking for them.

Looking forward to the rest of the series!

March 13, 2012 | Unregistered CommenterCin

I am so proud of our two nonconformist kids! My dd at 11 disdains the artificial, prefers clothing that actually covers her body, and knew more about dinosaurs at 5 than most college bio majors. My ds at 8 has been in ballet for 4 yrs, loves the twirl, and is best friends with a gaggle of girls (seriously, what girl doesn't love a guy who will dance??). I work full time, and my dh was a stay home dad for 10 yrs. We actively resisted boxing our children according to cultural stereotypes and just let them be themselves. They were both exposed to the same home environment, books, media, etc, and yet they are completely opposite in their preferences. Just let kids be kids. Enough with the marketing and pushing to be little adults.

March 13, 2012 | Unregistered Commentergyspydun

Fabulous post, fabulous conversation.

I remember one day being absolutely shocked when my then-five-year-old boy pointed to something (I forget what now, but I remember that it was pink) and called it "A GIRL TOY--it's not for BOYS, Mommy!" I took a deep breath and asked him where he learned that something was a girl toy INSTEAD OF a boy toy.

He picked up a catalog--not Target or Toys R Us or any of the large toy companies, but one supposedly devoted to "creative play"--and showed me that the two pages of PINKPINKPINK toys *only* featured photos of girls playing with those toys. The rest of the pages featured both girls and boys.

That's pretty powerful, especially to a young child.

March 13, 2012 | Unregistered CommenterKristen

I struggle with this with my two daughters.

I refuse to buy:
- Barbies. I don't like to support a toy/manufacturer that contributes so much to the numerous body issues girls face today.
- "Girl" versions of toys. If there is a neutral version and a "girl" version (like Duplo), you can bet I'm going to buy the neutral one.
- Anything that says: diva, princess, brat, etc. (Unless it's a DivaCup... I still do not know why they named it that. ;-))

My husband and I like to get things that are interesting to our children, not things that society says they "should" have. We actually got one grandma on board this past Christmas... she bought our girls a now well-loved fire truck! (They also did get their first Barbies, which we donated.)

The same goes for clothes. When I look for clothes for our older daughter, who likes dinosaurs and dragons (she even has dinosaur sneakers), I resent having to go to the clearly marked "BOY" side of the store. Why can't girls like dinosaurs and dragons, too? Well, in our house, they can. And I will buy boy if I have to. What matters to me is not what anyone else thinks--it's what my kids think. If they like something boyish, I am 100% committed to support that. Even if I step on toes in doing so.

March 13, 2012 | Unregistered CommenterRobbin Abernathy

I agree. Two years later he is more comfortable with who he is and while he no longer likes pink I have heard him defend his choice of a "girly" movie or his enjoyment of the Disney Fairies book series. At that time he choose not to but now he will. I guess I did okay. I've always felt guilty that I would not have flinched if he was a girl and choose blue.

March 13, 2012 | Unregistered CommenterUpstatemamma

You "resent" having to go to the other side of the store? What do you propose they do? Have ALL the clothes together in one section. They don't do that for adults. This, I never understand. They don't do it for adults, why the expectation they would do it for children. As for me, I take pride in being "different" when I am, and buying my kid what she wants no matter what section of the store it's in (including the thrift store). Of course you will buy boy if you have to. That's part of what makes you cool. And anyone can do it, actually. I really don't see the problem.

March 13, 2012 | Unregistered CommenterMrs Rochester

My thoughts on parents taking charge of messages marketed to their kids:
http://mamameyeah.blogspot.com/2011/01/in-defense-of-disney-princess-sort-of.html
Bottom line, it's in YOUR hands, and you do have the power.

March 13, 2012 | Unregistered CommenterMrs Rochester

That's great Cin. Thanks for sharing.

March 13, 2012 | Unregistered Commenterphdinparenting

I have asked her, Kelly. She usually just says that she doesn't know why she likes those things, she just does.

Our kids watch TV and some random "I want this" comes from that. Those things don't seem to stick, however. What really seems to stick with them is what their friends have and play with. That is both what they play with at their houses and what they play with at school (the classrooms all have a wide and diverse range of play options).

We do a lot of talking with our kids and it is rare that I would buy something that I don't agree with (I did buy a Barbie set that had a brunette adult and child Barbies riding bicycles for her for Christmas). But they do get an allowance and are allowed to buy what they want. If they wanted to use it to buy drugs or cigarettes or something, I wouldn't allow that. But part of letting them grow up and teaching them to make good decisions is letting them make their own decisions some of the time.

I talk, and I talk, and I talk. We do a lot of talking, both about the types of things raised in this article and about other issues (Nestle, McDonald's, politics, etc.). Believe me, there is no shortage of talking happening in our house. I see it making a difference in some places and in others it seems futile. But we'll keep doing it.

Ultimately, I think a combination of allowing them to be exposed to the world (versus shielding them from it) and talking through what is happening in the world (versus just accepting it) will be the best way to prepare them for life.

March 13, 2012 | Unregistered Commenterphdinparenting

I never thought about the financial aspect of this. Now it seems obvious, and I feel naive! I have considered what you say about boys having a bigger stigma against the pink toys than vice versa. I think that's the biggest tip-off that we still see something "less" about the female side. Another thought, it's actually not any less limiting for the boys, is it? Now my minds spinning!

March 13, 2012 | Unregistered CommenterAngie Matthewson

We tried to stay away from the whole "pink" thing when we knew we were having a girl. Her favorite color? You got it. Pink. Our second girl? You guessed it... teal. Oh, wait, you probably didn't guess that.

We are doing our best to raise our girls to be who they are. Sure there will be societal pressures, but that is all part of who we are. All we want in the end are strong, independent, thoughtful, self-respecting girls. Is it that difficult? Of course it is. That's what happens when you sign on to be parents.

And for the record, they love Legos, but we don't own and of the Lego Friends sets. They're just not interested, and that was their choice.

March 13, 2012 | Unregistered CommenterPhil

To some extent, adult female bodies and adult male bodies are shaped differently, so clothing also needs to be different in order to accommodate that.

That said, I often purchase men's jeans and sneakers because mainstream stores do not carry pants that are long enough or shoes that are big enough in the women's section. I'm 6'2" and wear a Size 12 shoe. Every time I'm shopping on the men's side of the store, I have a "helpful" salesperson try to direct me to the "right" side of the store.

March 13, 2012 | Unregistered Commenterphdinparenting

Virginia, I don't consider "feminine males" - or women, for that matter - to be "the weak among us" who need to be defended by the tough butch "real" men that we should all mold our sons into. I think our sons can make a positive impact on the world AND be themselves, whether that means painting their nails red or playing contact sports...or both.

March 14, 2012 | Unregistered CommenterChristina

I love this post, because it goes beyond the pink and blue debate:

http://www.mommyshorts.com/2012/02/princess-toys-that-enhance-math-and-science-skils-1.html

The author makes the point that the real problem with the pink girls' toys is the type of toys they often are. As you point out, these toys encourage girls to engage in play that is focused on nurturing, cooking, and beautification, roles that we still consider traditional female roles. Meanwhile, our girls are missing out on the opportunity to play with toys that encourage spatial reasoning and other skills that will help them develop an interest in math and science. If our girls like pink, so be it (probably silly to try to fight this one) - but we can still choose toys for them, at least in their early years, that are pink but provide lots of open-ended opportunities for play that promotes real-world math, science, and reasoning skills.

March 14, 2012 | Unregistered CommenterAlice Callahan

"I talk, and I talk, and I talk. We do a lot of talking, both about the types of things raised in this article and about other issues (Nestle, McDonald’s, politics, etc.)." <-- I knew that you did... you are always inspiring me when I read your Twitter feed about sharing the more "difficult" with kids; since our children are the same ages, it encourages me to be more open. Kids DO understand and can contemplate more than adults often think they can.

I agree too that a lot comes from what friends do/say/wear/play with, which is why I am so grateful for my kids' school's policy on commercialism (they also emphasize no/minimal television at home and only realism in books/movies/tv); but, like you said, you can't shield them from the world. They do have friends, even at the same school, who don't agree with those "rules". But ultimately, we, parents, ARE their biggest influence NOW.

It's a difficult balance, I think, to not IMPOSE our beliefs on our kids while still SHARING and EMPHASIZING what's important to us, and WHY... and why it may differ, even drastically, from those around us (I think of atheism and vegetarianism as two biggies here in our own life) - but that it's important to stay strong in your own beliefs... while allowing that others may have very different thoughts - which ALSO can be valid and worth contemplating.

I'm much more of a "why do you think that?" type parent than a "that's not correct thinking" type of parent. I suppose I am fortunate, in this respect, that my kids, mostly, like/think stuff I like/agree with. ;)

March 14, 2012 | Unregistered Commenterkelly @kellynaturally

If only Annie had a "like" button for comments...

March 14, 2012 | Unregistered Commenterkelly @kellynaturally

I'm sure we agree more than not but there is a lot of evolution at play in regards to gender roles, our bodies and thus the natural inclination of boys and girls and what they are drawn to. The author touched on this when she alluded to the toy manufacturers perhaps exploiting inherent gender differences and taking it to the extreme. There are gender differences, period. Males are physically stronger than females in general and they are drawn to things that enhance their God given attributes. Being physically weaker as women, generally speaking, does not make women "weak" per se. And yes men have historically protected the weaker. It's one thing to allow our boys to be themselves and another to push girl things onto them to prove a point. Its acceptable to allow boys to be themselves if they want to paint their nails but if I encourage a boy who is being "boyish" then that is macho, butch, etc. should we put all our boys on prozac so they act and behave more like girls? I sense a disdain for males being masculine in certain segments of society. We have evolved the way we are for good reason and if some of our boys are feminine males there's no problem in that but I'm not going to push it or conversely, denigh him from those things to the extent that he thinks being "feminine" is undesirable or inferior. I think we agree there. I see male and female as two intersecting circles wherein there is an area of overlap but each retaining it's own identity. If the toys mini men and women play with reflect that in their totality then that's natural.

March 14, 2012 | Unregistered CommenterVirginia H.

My 7-year-old daughter has some pink and princessy stuff but she also wears navy, brown, yellow, etc. I am not against the pink as long as it is not an all-encompassing obsession. I am puzzled, however, by the statement that Story's mom bought her boys' underwear (with its obvious sectioning that makes it fuller in the front for male genitals) "because the girls' ones had kitties and crowns." Girls' underwear also comes in solid colors, including bright colors such as bright yellow, green, and orange, and with designs that aren't all "kitties and crowns." We have some Joe Boxer girls' undies with the monkey on them. I would never put my daughter in boys' underwear unless she had an "accident" and it was the only clean thing available to wear! I see nothing wrong with being female and expressing femininity, as long as my daughter understands that she could be feminine and still be a doctor, pharmacist, or engineer if she wants to be.

March 14, 2012 | Unregistered CommenterCathy Y.

I want to mold both of my children into strong individuals, who are also incredibly expressive (in whatever way THEY choose), kind, and thoughtful. None of that precludes painting their nails red (for either of them), but it certainly does mean that I won't be teaching them how to pick up a gun and use it.

March 14, 2012 | Unregistered Commenterphdinparenting

Christina, my good friend has two boys 7 and 9 years old who are non-conventional. They both have hair down to their waists, wear dresses everyday and embrace pink etc. She raised them this way as a choice and believes strongly in her decisions. She was able to do this by surrounding herself with like-minded people and non judgemental people like myself who may not follow her example for my own boys but deeply respect her as a mom. She had her boys in the Waldorf schools and just in general created a community for herself and her family that was like herself and supportive. We are also from Oregon so raising her boys like this really isn't that big of a deal. In our high school couples going to prom where the boy wore the dress and the girl wearing the tux is nothing new for us. Maybe there are mom's groups you can find in your area to attend would put you in touch with others who are like minded would help. You aren't alone.

March 14, 2012 | Unregistered CommenterVirginia H.

I'm Story's mom. :)

We bought her solid colour underwear, of course. But she desperately wanted patterned stuff with the pictures SHE loved, too. They didn't make Thomas undies, or Curious George or any with puppies for girls. Those were the pictures she wanted, so we bought her briefs. Let's remember that she was 2 at the time, too.

She now chooses to wear Girl Gotch underwear - they're brightly coloured undies cut more like boys' styles and she likes that they don't crawl up her bum like the bikini ones made for girls. That's a whole OTHER rant though. ;)

March 14, 2012 | Unregistered CommenterAlex

I don't know a ton about the Lego Friends stuff, but I do wonder how much of it was in response to a real desire for "girl" Legos. Our house is nearly overrun with the things and we have a lot of different kinds--Lego City, the "knight" kind, and some pink ones (but not the friends one). We have the gender neutral Super Structs and we also have the pink fairy ones. They mostly turn them into light sabers and pretend to be jedi. But I do have friends who had expressed a desire for less "boyish" legos because their girls didn't always want to play with trucks or blocks that were yellow.

I don't know, it drives me crazy when I see the catalogs showing girls playing with toy vacuum cleaners and the boys doing science stuff. But I also think it's difficult to pinpoint exactly where a girl's love of pink might come from, or why a boy might want to be a firefighter. Being "girly" isn't neccesarily a bad thing if that's what you WANT to be.

March 14, 2012 | Unregistered CommenterKayris

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