All the toys, all the genders


The style of Barbie – and, naturally, Ken – that I grew up with.

The internet got rather excited this week when a Barbie commercial for the limited edition Moschino Barbie, born of a partnership between an Italian fashion company of the same name and Mattel, featured… a boy.

Then we all came crashing back to earth as we discovered that the whole thing was initiated by the fashion house rather than Mattel, and that the ad itself was intended to be a parody. Sigh.

Still, something is better than nothing. For years, people have been carrying on about the evils of Barbie and dolls generally in promoting gender stereotypes that limit little girls, and self-proclaimed experts have been quite happy to publicly proclaim that girls should be playing with toys traditionally considered for boys instead.

Yet what happens is that, once again, something for boys is considered inherently superior to things for girls and that does nothing to address gender stereotypes. Instead, perhaps we ought to consider that toys and other things targetting for girls have as much value as those for boys. I read an article about exactly that, the idea that liking”girly things” isn’t something to be ashamed of.

I’m going to admit it straight-up – I wasn’t really interested in Lego or cars when I was a little girl. It wasn’t that I was discouraged from it by any stretch; I just wasn’t into them. What I was interested in was my dolls… and the huge, elaborate world my sister and I created for them. More often than not, we played out things that we had read in books (right, fine, usually it started with things I had read in books) and got lost in our imaginary world. Everything from boarding schools (Malory Towers) through to modelling contests (the Babysitters Club, maybe?) through to throwing the dolls in the pool so they could go to the beach (not sure) was done. Far from thinking this was a waste of time, I think it did a lot for our creativity and helped us understand the world.

Also, it was fun.

I’d like my son to grow up being fine with playing with whatever kid’s toys he chooses – it’s part of why I agreed to his pink bouncer seat  (though he’s sadly coming to regard it as “place I get put when I’m crying and somebody needs to rush off to attend to something else for a few minutes”, but that’s another story) – and that he doesn’t have to like or dislike something based on what colour it is. I’m hoping that this will help teach him to regard people as people first, not as whatever gender they identify as… because if we want genders to be valued equally, we need to get rid of this idea that one gender’s things are silly and pointless while another’s are invaluable just because.