Tag Archives: gender stuff

I hate those dolls

We went to the toy section of the department store; each child lugging a heavy purse full of coins. We had come to spend their allowance. Malli picked up the biggest box of Lego he could find and was shocked to learn that he had only about a fifth of the money needed to buy it. And Akka headed straight for the shelf of Monster High dolls.

They both took ages to decide. I tried to direct Akka’s attention towards the Lego and the arts & crafts stuff and even the little annoying stuffed animals but she kept popping up in front of the Monster High shelf like it had her on a retractable leash. I tried to keep my eyes wide and not react with a scowl when she showed me what she chose. I hate those dolls.

(Hating particular dolls and then enabling my daughter’s enthusiasm for them is nothing new for me – see here.)

Malli finally settled on a small Lego hovercraft and started counting out his coins. I apologized in advance to the cashier for the mountain of change they dumped on the counter.

To be fair, Akka played with that doll all evening and all the next day – long after Malli’s hovercraft was fully assembled and forgotten. And for the moment, it still has its forearms and hands attached. Others like it in the toy bin have been less fortunate.

monsterhigh

A few days later I came in to find her watching something on my laptop. One of our saved movies, I supposed. But she looked up at me and said, “I googled Monster High!”

She was watching the horrible dolls in animated form! Several thoughts flooded my brain at once:  How do I set up parental filters on my computer? What else pops up on the screen when one googles ‘Monster High’? How do I get her away from it? Why do they have to cross-market everything?

But I let her watch. And she kept turning the screen, wanting to watch it alone.  She knew I’d hate it and wanted to enjoy her show without my judgment. I feigned disinterest for a while and then said breezily: “Hmm.. All the girls in that show just seem to care about what they look like and getting the boys’ attention.”

She turned with a scowl. “Mum! I already know about all that!”

“So what do you like about the show?”

Shrug.

“Is it scary, since they’re all monsters?”

“No”

“Is it funny?”

“Yeah! Frankie made a gingerbread man and then the gingerbread man took a bite of its own hand and then she said ‘No eating!’ and then the gingerbread man said ‘But I’m so delicious!'” Big grin.

Maybe she’ll turn out ok.

When I was little, visiting my cousins, my aunt once came into the room and switched off the TV when she found us watching The Flinstones. I was mystified. “We’re not allowed to watch it,” my cousin said. I couldn’t think why. What was wrong with the Flintstones? We were allowed to watch all sorts of other cartoons; what was wrong with that one?

A few years later I could see it. Wilma’s catch-phrase is chaaaaarrrrge it!. She is forever trying to get her hands on Fred’s credit card so she can shop till she drops. Wilma and Betty complain about their husbands going out bowling. They are gossipy wives who endure their husbands’ antics. My lawyer aunt who made at least as much money as her husband, hadn’t changed her name, and was inclined to undertake repairs and renovations with her own power tools was having none of it. I get it now. I wouldn’t want my daughter watching that nonsense either. But I watched it. I watched it a lot. And it never occurred to me to identify with Wilma and grow up to attach myself to a burly bowler with a credit card. Instead I grew up to hate Monster High dolls.

WilmaBetty

annual toy angst

I’ve done all the Christmas shopping. I almost called it ‘holiday shopping’ but even though I’m half-Jewish and K is Buddhist (but really just Marxist) I won’t fall into the ‘holiday-seasonal-winter-festival trap. I lost my tolerance for extreme holiday celebration political-correctness the first time I heard the term ‘spring orb’ used to describe an Easter egg. We give the kids presents on December 25th so I’m calling them Christmas presents. So there.

Anyway, I’ve bought them all. And last night I piled them all on the bed after the kids were asleep so I could count them and make sure they’re evenly distributed and doubt my choices and ensure that I don’t waste any time not festering or obsessing. They matched. The kids will receive an equal amount of crap.

Akka’s pile looked like this:

Malli’s pile looked like this:

Then I felt like throwing up. If the piles of presents could talk, Akka’s would say “the most important thing about you is how you look and it has to be exactly like this.” Malli’s would say “play! pretend! build! But also kill things and always, always be strong.”

I’ve been calming myself down by remembering that I also used to love girly toys and tiny little collectible useless things and I turned out ok. Cabbage Patch kids, Sweet Valley High books, china horses, about a million little Bonne Bell lip glosses. Ah, those were the days! Akka will be fine. And hopefully she’ll learn not to apply too much blue eye shadow. It’s never too early for important lessons like that, right?… Right?!!

winter coat rant, v 2.0

Every year the same thing: the kids insist on sprouting ever-longer arms and legs and they need new winter coats. Last year we managed with coats we’d bought the year before but Malli’s wrists started poking out into the cold February air and I defy you to find a winter coat in a shop when it’s actually winter. Can’t be done. So he managed with long mittens for the last couple of cold months and this year I started my quest early.

My first venture into children’s clothing stores way back in 2007 left me in a gendered-clothing-fury that got my name in print. I no longer expect to find gender-neutral or simply-designed children’s clothing. Or at least I know the only chance of finding them is in the boys’ section. Still, I fester.

My kids are failing to back me up in my weak and futile quest for clothes that don’t scream girly-girl or tough-guy. Akka’s neutral dressing days began to expire when she started kindergarten and got an eyeful of the Barbie backpacks, glittery tights, sparkle hairbands and skorts. Since then she’s been picking out her own clothes before bed and usually heads out the door in a symphony of colour and patterns (because one pretty thing looks pretty but three pretty things look three times as pretty!)

Malli couldn’t care less. Aside from expressing the occasional preference for a button shirt over a t-shirt he just pulls his clothes on and won’t even let you turn them around when they’re backwards. When he presents himself in the morning I wearily ask “Malli, are you wearing underwear?” Usually he is but I still ask because not long ago the answer was “No, but it’s ok. I’m wearing a belt.”

Part of my iron-clad  argument for clothes to be gender-neutral is that I should not have to shop for two sets of clothing for two kids. I should be able to pass clothes from the oldest to the youngest. Gendered clothing negates hand-me-downs. Wasteful. I proudly identify and reject the planned obsolesence of gendered clothing. But my kids’ growth patterns have forced a re-evaluation. Malli is a big four-year old. Akka is a small six-year old. This winter they’ll both be wearing size 5 winter coats. The hand-me-down argument is blown.

Malli fits into the coat Akka wore last year. Size five. Warm. Orange. Simple. From the boys’ section. She still fits into it too, of course, but she wants a long coat, preferably with a tie around the waist. There aren’t any of those in the boys’ section and given that he’ll never wear it, I gave up and walked reluctantly to the pink and sparkly side of the store and bought one. Size five. Warm. Purple. Not so simple. From the girls’ section. She loves it. She wouldn’t take it off all afternoon and we’re months away from below-zero temperatures.

boys are not girls, episode 2

I’m being pulled in two different directions. My kids don’t want to do the same things, play with the same toys, visit the same kids or go to the same places. It’s not that they’re suddenly different from one another (I did notice this before), it’s that they’re suddenly so different from one another.

Last year I signed them up for the same dance class. It sort of worked. This year one of them asked for a different dance class: only ballet; and the other one asked for no dance class. Soccer instead. So now we have a girl in ballet and a boy in soccer. Typical.

They’re painting right now. One painted “two rainbows and a pink sky because it’s almost night.” One painted “a robot with a head, a body, a button that flies him in case of an emergency, another button that protects him and he has so many arms and feet that he can walk a lot at one time and he has little skates on his feet and he lets them out when he wants to walk. Inside the skates are tiny bugs and he keeps them in there because he doesn’t want them to get out of his skates. So he can skate at one time without even falling. And the buttons are all for protecting himself and for protecting other people. If there’s a bad guy that’s trying to kill them, he pushes the button to kill. But not the good guys because he faces the way that the bad guy is.” Typical?

Two weeks ago Malli turned four. Right then, something changed: he’s a boy now. Walking up the street, they both made snowballs. Akka patted hers and spoke to it. Malli heaved huge chunks of snow at the telephone poles screaming “fireball!“.

He wants to build Lego. He wants to play with trucks. His blind adoration for his older sister has faded to the point where he does not want to play school and be Akka’s obedient student. He wants to play with guns. That last one sparked the first parenting challenge that Malli has presented to us. Up to now, the parenting questions that I’ve really struggled with have been motivated by Akka: How do we feel about Barbies? How do we want to mark birthdays? What’s with all the rude selfishness? And now, courtesy of Malli: How do we burn off some of this energy and how do we feel about toy guns?

It turns out that the toy gun question and the Barbie doll question are one and the same. This article helped me see that. They’re just toys and they won’t turn him into a violent criminal any more than the Barbie dolls will turn Akka into a busty sportscar-driving doctor with an attentive blond boyfriend. Much like the girly-girl toys, I’ve decided that I’m ok with toy weapons and the imaginative games they inspire but I’m not rushing out to buy them. At the neighbour’s house Malli runs around, bursting with glee, firing sponge bullets and learning how to “hit the dirt!”

Am I parenting sensitively; adjusting to new challenges and taking them in stride? Or am I slowly just caving in to mainstream notions of what boys do and what girls do? Sometimes I feel like I’m letting all my convictions drop away as we steer our kids through year after year of life. Plunk! There goes ‘my babies won’t drink from bottles’ (until I’m three months pregnant with the second one and will do anything to get the first one off me). Whump! There goes ‘my kids won’t watch TV’ (until they start giving up their naps and I can’t last a whole day without some tuned-out time). There goes ‘just a few toys.’ There goes ‘gender-neutral clothes.’ And there goes ‘no playing with weapons.’ What’s next? Are we making too much of all these parenting decisions? Taking the path of most resistance? Are we kidding ourselves about how much influence we really have? Creating little gendered consumers while taking in a little extra reading along the way? Typical? Perhaps.

never say never

Two new toys. The last toys I thought would ever cross the threshold of our house. Two of them. And I bought them myself.

Akka has shown a passing interest in Barbies. I always scoffed at them and, being no dummy, she picked up on that. Once, in a toy aisle, she stood captivated by shelf after shelf of pink, self-effacing, narrow-waisted, big-busted, small-footed Barbies, then turned to me with a shy look and said “we don’t want to buy those, right?” Right. I didn’t. She did, though.

Last week my friend and her son came over for lunch. Three-year-old E. walked through the door carrying his sparkle Barbie. Akka was captivated and played with it whenever E. let it out of his grip. After they left she asked me for one outright. Something occurred to me: if my son asked me for a Barbie, I’d probably get him one. And I’d be weirdly proud of it. We’ll see…

I have the girly debate frequently with my friends who are parents. It’s not much of a debate, really; it’s us congratulating ourselves on not succumbing to the aggressive Disney-Barbie marketing campaigns and sharing proud stories about how, due to our successful stonewalling, our daughters can’t even tell the difference between Ariel and Belle. But Akka’s interest was piqued and the issue kept coming up. A friend sent me a link to an online discussion about Barbies. One mom was bemoaning the fact that her daughter wanted one and most of the responding moms were telling her to lighten up. Something struck a chord:

“… now I worry that by making them forbidden fruit she wants them all the more. We have tried explaining why we don’t like them, but this seems to really hurt & embarass her, she is very sensitive and she then feels as though she is doing something wrong in wanting them.” (motheringdotcommunity)

That’s what I’d inadvertently done to Akka. She knew she wasn’t supposed to like the things she liked. What kind of message is that? Other moms on the discussion forum talked about their kids building cardboard box houses for their Barbies, cooking and feeding them pretend food, creating clothes out of paper and fabric scraps, building shoebox cars for them and basically just playing. They’re just dolls. They’re just toys. So I went to Value Village where second-hand Barbies are disturbingly sold in clear plastic bags:


photo credit: Jodi Green on Flickr

I sorted through them and found two clean and clothed and un-chewed ones to bring home. She couldn’t believe her luck.

Their names are Daisy and Lisa. They play Simon Says. They sleep in a little basket. They have unrealistic body proportions and permanent make up. Daisy can only walk on tip toe (or, presumably, in high-heeled shoes). Malli took Lisa for an airplane ride. We don’t need to watch Barbie movies or buy Barbie backpacks or get the lavender camper van. Just two new dolls and a happy little girl.

pink and blue (or rather, brown)

I have a tendency to rant about children’s clothing and the ridiculous sex segregation of shoes, underwear, coats, pants, and anything else that children wear. Last winter I wrote about my futile attempts to buy a gender-neutral winter coat and some underwear for Akka in a Facts and Arguments essay in the Globe and Mail.

I have no problem with pink, however (as long as it’s frill-free). We did buy Akka some nice pink shoes last year. Now that she’s outgrown them, I surprised myself by being reluctant to strap them on Malli’s feet. I think it’s the mary jane style more than the colour. I just felt like I’d be defending my footwear choices everywhere we went. But while I can’t change the style of the shoes, I decided I could make them a little more transferable by dying them brown:

It sort of worked. They look ok, but not great. And because Malli’s little brown and blue oxfords still fit, these formerly pink ones aren’t getting much mileage.

Then, a pair of pink suede boots (Malli’s size) came into our lives via hand-me-down:

The dye worked much better on the suede portion of the mary janes so I was inspired to give it another go. I think they turned out pretty well. What little boy (or girl) wouldn’t want to step out in these lovely brown flowered and be-jeweled boots?

boys are not girls*

*direct quote. credit: cousin Emily circa 1985.

Akka spends hours diapering her “guys” and putting them to bed. Always face-down, always completely covered with a blanket. Our living room often looks like a plush toy graveyard. Still, she is meticulous with the diapering and takes care to ensure that the blankets are all lying flat and smooth. Then she lovingly taps them on their backs until they fall asleep.

I never thought of this as particularly feminine behaviour. Then Malli came along. And when my sister (mother of two boys) visits, she practically stares gaping while Akka says “tap tap tap, shhh, shh, shhh”.

Malli is a climber. For a while, we had to leave all the dining room chairs on their side or we’d find him on top of the table. I never had to remove the knobs from the gas stove or baby-proof the cupboards when Akka was a baby. But he also copies his big sister and can sometimes be found tapping Eeyore on the back or breastfeeding Chicken. Actually, I guess that means he’s copying me too.