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Blatant Gender B.S.

by Carrie Friedman

I walked into a toy store the other day and was greeted by an attentive, gum smackin’ saleswoman who asked what I was looking for. I told her: “Big Legos.”

She asked ages and genders of my kids, then handed me the pastel bag of big Legos with butterflies on them. Legos for girls, apparently.

I put them back and grabbed the bag with primary colors. Same size, same shape, but no pink and lavender, no butterflies.

Later, the same saleswoman circled back to me.  I was looking at a toy hammer that makes a pounding sound when you shake it. “Isn’t that adorable?” she said to me, then, “Let me show you the one they make for girls.”

She disappeared for a moment, long enough for me to assume she was going to come back with a pink and purple hammer that sounded like a fleet of butterflies when you shook it.

Instead, she returned with a pink mirror/looking glass thing that, when you shook it, said “You’re pretty!”

I was pissed.  Then I skimmed the top shelves for Candid Camera.  Then I was pissed again.  “How is that the same?” I asked her. “A hammer is a tool, an activity, it does something. That is a mirror. At the most my daughters can passively look into it and be told they’re pretty. My daughters are so much more than pretty.”

The saleswoman just stared at me.

My daughters are like little tiger cubs, playing and exploring. My younger daughter might be a budding engineer for how much she loves to study the way things work. And I might have a future architect on my hands for how much my older daughter loves to build with blocks.

Each time we found out we were having a daughter friends sent tiny, sequined “Diva in training” tee shirts and “Shhh, the Princess is sleeping” door signs.  People sent books, too, but I have to say I was a bit overwhelmed by the inundation of soft pink  things. I don’t want my daughters casting themselves as princesses. Princess is a title – a figurehead – something you are either born into or marry into. It’s a relatively passive role for them to play: most princesses in fairy tales are damsels in distress. They sit in towers, they wait to be rescued, they wish to meet their one true love. I want more than that for my daughters, and, more importantly, I want them to want more than that for themselves. I’m not trying to raise divas or angels. I’m trying to raise people. Multi-dimensional, interesting, funny, smart, curious people who love bugs and tools just as much as they love their play-kitchen.

As I continued to browse the aisles of this toy store, I realized it only gets worse from here: the older kid Legos seem even more polarized. The ones packaged for boys are for trucks and whole cities and architectural landmarks.  Girls, they seem to presume, can (or should) only build castles, pet shops, and beauty salons.

Later, the toy store saleswoman, ever hopeful, found me again.  This time with a tiara.  That was it. I left. I can buy big Legos online.

Primary colored ones, of course.

Lego Beautiful        Unknown

777 Responses

  1. Kelly M.

    I only have boys, but still, I remember this b.s. from when I was a kid!

  2. Merna Lou

    Gobsmacked Mom reminds me in this insightfully written piece of the struggles I faced when I shopped for my two young sons. I was determined they would grow up to be well balanced men – strong AND sensitive. What a timely piece also – this morning on NPR weekend addition, reporter Neda Oulaby reports on Lego’s new “Friends” toys for girls. Valuable food for thought in this blog posting and NPR reporting.

  3. Allison

    Love your blog and love to know we aren’t the only parents out there trying to avoid casting our daughter as a “princess” or “diva” our little girl is only 11 weeks old and it’s a constant fight with my mother and sister about wearing princess gear… We tell her she’s our little ninja. Also thought I’d share a website from the sounds of it your girls may like some of their projects! 🙂

  4. cee

    The worst for me is how animals are divvied up and gendered. My daughter wanted PJ’s with dogs on them. Because, dogs! Awesome, what’s not to love? She now has boys PJ’s. whatever. But I dread that my son will want PJ’s with horses or cats (also both awesome toddler themes) because they’re gonna be pink. Its the only way they come. Apparently those species aren’t compatible with appropriate two year old machismo.
    Blech. I don’t remember it being this bad when I was a kid.

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