Monday, January 9, 2012

Mommyblogging: Should You Buy Your Boy a Barbie?

Subtitle: "In a Rare, Unlikely to Be Repeated Moment of Seriousness . . ."

In all that perfect parenting I did before I was an actual parent, I'd resolved to be an open-minded (if Smug) mommy when it came to creating a gender-neutral learning and play environment at home. The Pretty Parents had encouraged me to play with a number of toys, both traditionally female ("Cabbage Patch Dolls", naturally) and male (I served as chatelaine to both HeMan's Castle of Greyskull *and* an entire Darth Vader head of Star Wars figurines). Who knows if it's related, but I did grow up feeling entirely at home playing with the boys, both on the playground and in the classroom, and eventually in the often chauvinistic field of law.

Let me hasten to add: I'm not at all saying that men & women are the same - there's unlikely to be any sending my boy child to school in tutus, for the love of Nordstrom - but I am concerned about raising an independent, empathetic thinker of a man who respects women. Before Master P was born, I resolved to allow for whatever form of play would best build a foundation for that, thinking that might include both stereotypically male & female toys and books, from dolls to dump-trucks.

And then, of course, came my actual child - the boy who toddled straight over to the toy cars and tractors just as soon as he was mobile, no cultural gender pressure necessary. When left near a stereotypically female toy like a play kitchen, he immediately mans the grill. I mean, he's even hogging the remote controls already.

None of this is a problem, of course, but it did get me to thinking about the age-old "nature or nurture?" question when it comes to raising our wee CEOs, and the role we play in encouraging any stereotypically gendered play. That question is well above my pay grade here, of course, but this article got me chewing on the issue again & sums it up well - to a certain extent, toy selection is one of the biggest displays of differences between the sexes, with boys generally (not *always*, but generally) gravitating towards the sports and mechanics and girls preferring things like dolls.

An equally important note it makes - boys and girls exposed to a variety of toys and opposite gender friends at an early age tend to do better when it comes to things like empathy and even romantic relationships later on. Even my icy, cold heart can get on board with that.

All of this is easier said than done, of course; here in the US, my *highly scientific* experience has been that it's more controversial to have boys playing with traditionally female toys than vice versa. I recall a mom I ran into a few weeks ago with her 3-year-old boy; her son was pushing a bright pink toy stroller with (bright pink, natch) doll in tow, and she rushed to explain the situation, seemingly embarrassed.

Whatever our cultural double standard, if my boy wants a Barbie one day, he might well get one. In the meantime, amidst all the footballs and trains currently filling Pretty HQ, we'll continue to attend our boys-and-girls-welcome playgroup, and reading books written for all children, not just the boys-and-trucks stuff (though we have plenty of that too, I should add). Naturally, he'll be dragged taken to the occasional shoe sale.

Most importantly, I'll continue to try and sit back and learn from the remarkable, actual, trains-and-trucks-loving little boy I've been given, stupid pre-child parenting imaginings be hanged.

How does it work in your household - does your toddler's toy preferences fall along stereotypical gender lines so far? If they don't, would you be comfortable buying your kid a more "male" or "female" toy?


AEOT said...

Spencer does have a baby doll and he LOVES it. He will carry her (oh yes, she is dressed in all pink and has curls) with him everywhere. He has his "bear" (his lovie) that is his bff, but baby comes close! It's fine by me that he loves his baby- I feel that it's prepping him for his total world shake down in May! For the most part, all the boys at daycare love the baby dolls. The wrap them up and put them to bed- it's super cute. He really plays with anything- balls are still probably his favorite. If he were given a choice between books and toys, though, he would always pick books. The boy is obsessed :)

J'adore the Thomas longall, btw! J looks absolutely adorable in it! We are a very choo choo friendly family right now, so I might have to hunt something like this down!!

Jessica said...

Have you read Pink Brain, Blue Brain? Very interesting summary of all the scientific literature re: sex differences in children, from birth through adolescence. Bottom line conclusion: sex differences are almost exclusively nurture until puberty. So, as my little daughter hugs her dolls and carries my little handbags around the house, I wonder what is compelling her to act that way. Am I sending her cues of which I'm not even aware? Or am I just not buying enough trucks and trains, naively believing she'll ask for them someday if she wants them? With another daughter on the way, I feel like we're drowning in "girl stuff."

Have you ever browsed around the sex-specific sections of Toys R Us? It makes me sad. So much make-up and princess stuff on the girl side, so much monster and dinosaur slime on the boys'.

I try my best to be gender-neutral around here, even though the nurseries are pink and purple. I don't want to go out of my way to buck the norm and make life harder for the girls later on by being totally unconventional, but I don't want them stuck in their roles either.

Lisa @ Trapped In North Jersey said...

My boys have had zero interest in girly stuff, even though we had baby dolls and kitchens while they were young. In fact, that kitchen was never touched once and I nearly got rid of it, but thought, hmm, having one more, maybe that baby will play with it...and my daughter loves the kitchen, and the girly stuff. She loves pink and purple, without any prompting from me. In fact, a significant portion of her wardrobe is her brothers' hand-me-downs, but she goes right for the pink stuff regardless. On the other hand, she plays with not just the babies and the kitchen, but with Bey Blades (omg, when she says "Mama, will you battle with me?") and trucks, and is not afraid to bash her brothers over the head with those trucks, or employ the People's Elbow on them. I'd say most of her toys are actually whatever the boys are playing with.

Lindsey said...

I love this post because having two girls but wanting a boy someday I said to my husband- we definitely need to make our toy selection gender neutral and with that he bought the girls tool sets and other gender neutral toys for Christmas and I'm really glad he did :)

Amy @ Forever 29 said...

I was/am of a similar mindset and when I went to search for a boy baby doll for N before C was born I was so disappointed because I could hardly find one! I settled on a Cabbage Patch, which N hasn't paid any attention.

For now most of our toys seem on the more gender neutral side but I'm sure time will bring all kinds of action figures and such.

LPC said...

One thing I recommend, related but somewhat tangentially, is that right from the start, you imagine that you child could be gay. Statistically, it's not most likely outcome, but if it turned out to be the case, you'll be best prepared to love and support them if you've included that possibility in your mind all along.

Mrs. C said...

His outfit it so stinking cute!!
-Mrs. C

Brandy said...

Well, my little boy is only 4 months old, so we're not quite at that stage yet. But I have a feeling my husband will only be buying him boy stuff. That's just a guess from the fact that his room is already filled with sports memorabilia. :) My daughter is definitely a little princess who loves all girly things. And I think you're right--we're probably more comfortable with her playing with boy toys versus him playing with girl toys. Who knows why? I do know that if our son ended up being gay, we'd love him and accept him no matter what.

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