I had an epiphany over the Christmas period. My daughter really likes playing with trains and cars. Most of her friends, since coming to Australia, are boys so these toys are readily available whenever she plays at their houses but hang about, why shouldn’t she have them available at home?
So, off we went to Target to peruse the toy section. The boy-specific toy section. It was during this particular shopping trip that I encountered the seemingly universal (and upsettingly) narrow-minded attitude towards gender. I should probably at this point mention I had dressed my daughter in the following ensemble: mustard tee with elephant and sequinned illustration, black cut-off leggings with lace detail and brown leather embellished sandals.
Browsing the action men, fire engines and assorted locomotives in the “boy’s” aisle, I overheard a fellow mother with her son and daughter. The girl was whingeing that she wanted a toy, to which her mother replied that the crown on her head had been the girl’s toy of choice not to mention the new shoes just bought. I then heard her tell her son “Just look in the boy’s section where there are toys for boys”.
I found this all very discomfiting and it got me to wondering whether at home these children were allowed to merge their gender-specific toys and play together. Anyway, exiting the aisle, my stroller now laden with trains, train-set and cars I passed a woman of grandmotherly age and her two companions. The woman was holding a Miffy toy (animated cat popular in Japan and notable by her huge pink bow) and my daughter must have briefly looked at it, as the next thing I knew the woman was wagging her finger at my 22 month old and saying, “Oh no, this is not for you. You’re a boy.”
Um, excuse me. There is so much wrong with that statement that I barely know where to begin. First, please don’t assume from my “macho” loot and that because I don’t habitually adorn my child with pink ribbons and glitter that she must be male, and secondly, what right have you got to tell her what she can or cannot play with? This reminded me of what a friend had told me a week earlier. She had taken her toddler to a toy store but when he took a liking to a doll’s pram and began wheeling it around the store, a male clerk forcibly removed it from his grasp.
The debate over boys and girls toys is one which has had much airtime of late, with the Goldieblox ad going viral and Irish doll brand, Lottie coming to the fore of the market, each product advocating a girl’s place in a rampantly sexist world. In spite of the proclamations of equality that have supposedly placed outdated Fifties notions firmly in the past, I would argue them to be just that, all talk and no action. If we continue to frown on boys who want to play with prams and dolls, surely we’re just discouraging them from being hands-on fathers in adulthood, while restricting little girls from playing with cars and trains merely sends the message that mobility and mechanics is just for men.
Surely we have come far enough now to realise that gender is really just an illusion and that people, whether male or female, will be whomever they choose to be, and do whatever they want to do. Why do we insist on locking individuals in a box according to their sex? How is that conducive to developing a people who understand each other if they’ve been taught and raised according to what makes them different? I want my daughter to grow up knowing that she can play with, learn about, work as and love whatever and whomever she chooses.
So if you come to our house, you’ll find a little girl as excited to play trains with her “choo choo” as she is to pretend cook in her play kitchen. Parental and societal judgement not included.