Sciencewomen

Girly toys guilt free

I have some trepidation about raising a girl in today’s culture. How do I navigate the over-princessing and over-sexualization of the preschool years without becoming a militant mom and always saying “no”? So far I’ve tried to strike a good compromise. Minnow has plenty of pink in her wardrobe, but no princess themed outfits. She has flowery dresses but more blue jeans. She has a slide, blocks, lots of cars, and now a kitchen, a doll, and a purse.

I don’t want Minnow to feel forced into gender-stereotyped roles and it raises my hackles when people comment “Oh, she’s such a girl…” Whatever that means when referring to a one-year-old. On the other hand, I don’t want to deny my daughter toys that she enjoys because they do happen to fit feminine stereotypes.
Minnow's kitchen
So this weekend found us venturing into Toys R Us, the bastion of kid-centered commercialism, in search of a toy kitchen for Minnow. For months now, she’s loved to put things in and out of containers, empty cupboards and raid the pantry. Upon dropping her off at daycare, she invariably checks out the action in the play kitchen first thing. So we figured that this was a toy she could enjoy now, and would hopefully continue to use for the next couple of years, as her ability to pretend grows stronger. Plus, at home she sees a pretty good mixture of Daddy cooking and Mommy cooking, so I don’t think she’ll pick up on the stereotype of the woman (barefoot and pregnant) in the kitchen for a while.

Minnow also loves stuffed animals and has been observed covering them with blankets at naptime and even occasionally offering one a pacifier. (Also actions that have been observed relative to real babies at daycare.) Minnow covets the doll that our neighbor boy owns. (The dad keeps trying to give it to us, because “boys shouldn’t have dolls anyways, and Minnow is such a girl…”) So a doll seems like a reasonable toy for her to have (and should defuse the neighbor’s offers). I found one that is light enough for her to carry easily and has the realistic face and hand features that appeal to her. So far she’s picked it up and carried it around for a minute or two at a time before becoming distracted by more fun things, like the dog’s water bowl. If she never grows attached, that’s fine with me. If she does, that’s fine too.

Finally, the purse. Again, it goes back to Minnow’s love of putting things in and out. She’s always trying to empty my school bag and has absconded with the purse I occasionally carry, when my outfits stupidly don’t have sufficient pockets. She looks pretty funny traipsing around with a purse strung around her neck and dragging down to her ankles, and it’s rather inconvenient to have to hunt it down when I need it. So I got her a bright floral little purse, which she loved in the store, but has had absolutely no interest in since it arrived home. I’m good with that.

I refuse to feel guilty about giving her these things (well, except by the consumerism of it all). She’s a girl, she can play in the kitchen if she wants. But she can also race cars down her slide. And if we ever have a boy, he’ll be welcome to do the same.

Comments

  1. #1 makita
    April 7, 2008

    My little girl is such a girly girl. I wasn;t anything like that, so I often say that she must be getting it from her father. The point is, no matter how hard I try, she has a definite presence for all the stereotypical girl stuff, even though (with two older boys in the house) there is a lot of stereotypical boys stuff around. She has no interest in that, and she will not allow herself to be forced. Ultimately, I think you learn to realize that kids are who they are, and they simply have a natural tendency, and there is little you can do about it.

    I go out of my way to choose the cute little green or yellow outfits, but my sunshine wants pink, with a pink jacket, thank you. And pink socks. What is a mother supposed to do?

  2. #2 Alexis
    April 7, 2008

    My name is Alexis and I work at L’Oreal USA in NYC, supporting the For Women in Science program. L’Oreal partnered with UNESCO on this program ten years ago to help advance the role of women in science and to encourage more young women scientists to continue their pursuits in the field.

    Since the inception of this partnership, the For Women in Science program has awarded more than $4 million in grants to over 150 female scientists in 85 countries.

    In 2004, the company also established a US national fellowship program which each year awards five post-doctoral female researchers with fellowship grants of $40,000. To date, this program has awarded research grants of $500,000.

    You can learn more about the international or national fellowships or laureate awards at http://www.forwomeninscience.com.

    In May we will be recognizing the five 2008 US Fellows at the annual awards luncheon held at the American Museum of Natural History in New York.

    The call for 2008/2009 applicants begins in August and applications close on October 31, 2008. I hope you’ll share this with any colleagues who might be eligible to apply or to check out the website for more information.

  3. #3 Schlupp
    April 7, 2008

    Alexis, one problem I’ve been having with the l’Oreal fellowships: Usual postdoc salaries in my field are 42000$ + health insurance and occasionally benefits (in the US).* So, the l’Oreal thing always seems to tell me that women should expect to work for less money than “normal” postdocs.

    *In MyCoutry, the disparity is even stronger: A l’Oreal postdoctoral fellowship pays pretty much exactly the same as a “normal” PhD student fellowship.

  4. #4 Eliza
    April 7, 2008

    I don’t see a kitchen set as being particularly girly –especially the one pictured– because as my younger brother (who is turning 22 this Thursday) says “Everyone’s gotta eat!” We loved our kitchen toys, and also playing school with a little desk and text books from the elementary school’s annual bazaar. Mom set it all up in a little area with a two shelf bookcase, a globe, and a chalkboard. I think she was really on to something there as I remember my brother being so terribly excited to go to school. He’s also the only one of his friends who can cook a decent meal on his own. (Can’t properly scrub a pot to save his life though.)

    While the rows and rows of pink in the toy shops make me wince, I find I’m more troubled by the “Perfume & Spa Science” section on the Toys R Us website. I’m not exactly sure why it bothers me more, it just does.

  5. #5 Randy
    April 7, 2008

    I also tried to avoid conventional “gendered” toys with my daughter. I gave up though on her third birthday. I bought her a baseball set to play with, she ignored it or carried the bat around like a baby. in the meantime her 11 month old brother picked up the bat and beat the heck out of the ball (and just about anything that would move when he hit it).

    I doubt my duaghter would find a kitchen girly either, since I do all the cooking and groceries in our house.

  6. #6 ira wyatt
    April 7, 2008

    There seems to be a fair amount of societal pressure on kids to maintain traditional gender roles through their play. Still, a lot of kids grow out of the rigidly stereotyped activities. Or at least, I did.
    And I think that kitchen sets are good for everyone. It’s a crying shame that so few people in my generation are able to put together a decent meal. Plus, for sciency people, cooking can be a good opportunity to introduce some principles of chemistry. Once kids are old enough to appreciate it, of course.

  7. #7 Jennifer Ouellette
    April 7, 2008

    I think your approach is exactly right, and kudos to you for following it. You’re letting Minnow play with the toys she likes, regardless of the associated cultural stereotypes of being “masculine” or “feminine.” It’s possible to be both overly concerned with boys being boys, and girls being girls, and overly “PC” (i.e., refusing to let little girls wear pink, EVER).

    I grew up with a brother 13 months older and we played a lot together in our early years because the family moved a lot until I was 6. Ergo, when we walked into the local toy store, we both inevitably ran for the toy weapons and gross-out stuff. What would parents obsessed with gender stereotyping make of THAT today? :) It certainly dismayed my mother. Fortunately, my younger sister turned out to be the quintessential “girly-girl.”

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    April 7, 2008

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  9. #9 Not so girly
    April 7, 2008

    I grew up preferring pants to dresses, action figures to dolls, and building blocks to tea parties. My parents (and grandmother) fretted a bit about my rejecting the doll (since I would actively hide it rather than just ignore it). They decided it wasn’t a serious problem since I treated my stuffed animals like babies anyway. I would play with Barbies when I was with other girls, and typicaly boy toys when I was with guys. Of course, now I can’t cook for anything, but otherwise I don’t think my childhood toy preference has had any impact on how I turned out (except that I will still choose pants over sirts when given the option).

  10. #10 chezjake
    April 7, 2008

    You’ve got a couple years yet, but since you and Fish both apparently cook, it might make sense that when Minnow actually gets her early “hands on” cooking lessons that Fish should be her first teacher.

    That’s what we did with my daughter (now grown and a mother herself), and it worked out very well. She’s even more a feminist than her mother, and her husband does equal shares of the cooking.

    Humorous side note: You should be aware of the hazards you are facing. Listen to Nancy White’s hilarious song “Daughters of Feminists.” Link is to a recording by Cathy Fink and Marcy Marxer (requires free downloadable plug-in from Rhapsody/Real Player) (also some other very good songs for parents on that album): http://www.rhapsody.com/cathyfink/aparentshomecompanion/daughtersoffeminists

  11. #11 Donna LaBrea
    April 7, 2008

    (my $.02, and worth about that, but offered in good faith…) If I were you, I would just relax and not try to burden your kid with your hangups. One of the reasons why the “stereotypes” exist is because most girls like “girly” things, just as most boys like “boyish” things. There isn’t anything wrong with that, nor is there anything wrong with the reverse. The problem lies when others (parents, peers, etc.) don’t accept the individual child’s tastes and try to impose other tastes on the individual child.

    If you daughter likes girly things, then you should let her indulge that (within reason, of course), along with teaching her the values of independence, self-reliance, hard work, etc. Otherwise you risk creating unnecessary angst and stress in the child, if she likes something that you have a problem with (say, princesses, for example) and you withhold these things solely to salve your own anxieties. In that case, you’re putting your needs before the child’s needs.

  12. #12 Kermit
    April 7, 2008

    I have to say, I’m impressed with how non-girly that kitchen set is!

  13. #13 Cherish
    April 7, 2008

    Oh man. This is a tough one for me. My three year old son loves Dora (hates Diego) and always wants Dora stuff. Please tell me why they can’t just put Dora on a blanket *without* the pink hearts all over? I don’t think I’d buy it for a girl, either. :-P

    I bought him a Dora doll, though, which he really likes. I’m also going to buy him a toy kitchen for his birthday (although I’m going to hide it from my parents, who might freak). He loves playing in the kitchen and helping me cook. He’s also using his legos to make “food”, which he then brings over to feed to someone.

    And then he wanders off and plays with Dora and his hot wheels. :-)

  14. #14 Sam Wise
    April 7, 2008

    Since everybody’s chipping in their $0.02, I might as well add mine to the collection…

    I’m also of the persuasion that you ought to buy your kid(s) toys that they like to play with, regardless of what anybody thinks they “should” like. Our daughter is only sporadically “girly” — both grandmothers buy her dolls, she ignores the dolls and plays with the doll accessories. We’ve got a whole assortment of stuffed animals wearing doll clothing as a result, and our little one gets a lot of exercise taking her stuffed dogs for “walks” in her toy stroller.

    Life really gets exciting when your little one hits grade school age. It’s getting harder & harder to find clothing for our girl that doesn’t look like it came off the Vegas strip.

  15. #15 Becca
    April 7, 2008

    Hmm. Interesting topic. My parents were perhaps more aggressive in setting their agendas with my toys than most. I had to fight really hard to get a Barbie, for example (not because it was a doll- I had lots of those- but because it is so very aberantly shaped). I never got toy guns or any sort of electronic entertainment (due to pacifistic and ludite streaks in my parents, respectively). There are lots of toys you might not want Minnow to have for all kinds of reasons- excessive genderization being only one of them.
    None of it is worth agonizing about, but I don’t think it does any harm to push a little bit of an agenda. Kids do have a tendency to find amusement in a wide variety of sources, and most toys they want in a store they will completely forget about if you get them.

    Also, don’t rule out princesses entirely as good ways to perpetuate feminist agendas… it will be many years, but keep the Enchanted Forest Chronicles by Patricia Wrede in mind.
    Actually, if no one has alerted you to the Chinaberry (www.chinaberry.com) book catalog, I’d highly recommend it.

  16. #16 Aerik
    April 7, 2008

    ha! My 3yo nephew has the exact same play kitchen. :P We play with it a lot.

  17. #17 Sven DIMilo
    April 7, 2008

    My daughter, who turned 12 last week, has been through phases. There are some positive-message “girly” toys out there-the American Girl empire for those with $ or a Rich Aunt, and my favorites, the Groovy Girls (cute, happy, nonsexual, and lots of cool outfits and accessories). The problem has been with birthday-party gifts from others…our original no-Barbie rule was quickly subverted (fortunately the kid was never much interested in em), and even the evil Bratz have appeared in our house through no fault of ours.
    The kitchen is way cool.

  18. #18 volcanogirl
    April 7, 2008

    My dad never allowed me to play with “boy” toys. No Heman, no cars, no guns, no toy hammer. He is progressive in a lot of ways, but came from a culture where girls had a particular place. Before I left for geology field camp, my father said he wanted to treat me to a manicure (!!?). My dad did encourage independence and creativity though. So, I rebelled the gender stereotype! I cut my hair short, made swords out of sticks in the woods, and became a geologist!

    I believe toys don’t matter (then again, I am still childless). What matters is that Minnow is encouraged to be smart, self-confident, and creative. And I am sure you are doing your best!

  19. #19 La Wade
    April 7, 2008

    Funny, someone just sent me this article last week. Apparently the sex differences seen in toy choices in human children are the same in rhesus monkeys.

  20. #20 Kim
    April 7, 2008

    Wow. She’s getting really big. It’s easy to forget how fast kids change in six months!

    My son was into cross-dressing when he was a toddler. Some of the other moms at day care were a bit disturbed (because all the little boys put on the pink tutus). I thought it was cute. He stopped long ago, though, and now talks about how he doesn’t like princesses.

    Right now, his favorite game is to pretend that his toy dinosaurs are a band. I love it.

  21. #21 B
    April 7, 2008

    A kitchen should not be seen as ‘girly’ in my book. There are thousands of male chefs that work in kitchens across the world. My nephew loves to play cook and is very imaginative in bringing me various pretend foods.

  22. #22 Rachel
    April 7, 2008

    I second B

    I don’t see a kitchen as a girly toy.

    My nephew always loved kitchens, was “sauteeing” pegs in a frypan on an upturned laundry basket as a toddler, cooks with his Dad (who does most of the evening cooking and is a bit of an amateur chef) and with his Mum, and Grandma and me.

    As a baby, when my sister was home and switched on the TV, he’d be captivated when very small by cooking shows.

    He also likes cars, and Cars (Lightning McQueen) and Bob the Builder.

    His sister isn’t so much into cooking, but likes pink, and puzzles (her brother isn’t so much a puzzler). And she also likes Bob the Builder.

    I’d say cooking is gender neutral. Unless it is in a kitchen with pink hearts all over it!

  23. #23 ScienceMama
    April 7, 2008

    Your approach is exactly the same as mine. I think that by making a big deal about “gendered” toys, you’re more likely to contribute to gender as something that the child has to be worried about.

    I LOVE this picture of Minnow. I can’t believe how big she’s getting!

  24. #24 ScienceMama
    April 7, 2008

    I didn’t express myself very well above, but what I was trying to say is that I don’t want to make Bean feel like things that are feminine are inherently bad any more than I want her to think that feminine things are inherently good. I think taking a relaxed approach to “gendered” toys is probably the best way to make sure there’s no anxiety about it.

  25. #25 Writer Chica
    April 7, 2008

    I love the kitchen. And so does my son and daughter and actually so does any child of any gender who comes to play at my house. Minnow looks like she is really enjoying it, too and another really great part of it is that it works for a longer age range than some toys.

    I think rationalizing each toy choice may get exhausting. And truly in the long run the toys she plays with will make far less of a difference that the attitude of you and Fish and other close adults.

    I feel bad for the boy who has the doll and the dad who thinks he shouldn’t have it. That really stinks. Perhaps if the father makes that comment again you could ask him what is wrong with a boy learning to be nurturing to a person? This seems to illustrate my previous point. That boy may have a doll, but his father’s attitude will likely make a bigger difference. It is annoying that our culture seems to insist that boys can be nurturing to teddy bears or cars or blankets or some other non-human object, but not to a doll.

  26. #26 Sicilian
    April 7, 2008

    I am smiling. . . . she’s a baby. . . . she will change what she likes at different stages. . . . it will work with cloths, foods, toys, and friends. . . . .Enjoy. . . . it will be memories you will treasure as you watch her grow and play.
    Ciao

  27. #27 sara
    April 8, 2008

    i think i have like 16 cents on this subject :)
    im the daughter of a feminist who grew up in a house where Barbies were outlawed, as was the color pink (i had other dolls, and learned to sew, but not cook, which was in our house my dads job) and i grew up to become a fashion obsessed physics phd who likes to knit, and play soccer with the boys.

    i think one point that stands out to me from the comments is the idea that we have these gendered toys because its what boys and girls naturally like, which i dont believe, I think they are being conditioned (even if it is done subtly) from day 1 to fit into the sterotype, which is why more girls play with doll. so i do think that a certain amount of pushing in the other direction is important, just to counteract the rest of societies message, and that probably pushing a bit harder than necessary is better than not. though one has to be careful not to go to far and give the kid the idea that you are devaluing things that were traditionally female jobs.

    anyway, enough rambling. by all means get minnow a copy of “Free to be you and me”!

  28. #28 Kamomilla
    April 9, 2008

    I’d like to comment on something that seems to be a general theme in this topic.
    What is wrong with traditional gender roles? What is wrong with being ‘girly’? Why should we try to guide our daughters to be more boy-like? I am amazed by this attitude among females in science, and most likely females that consider themseleves as somewhat feminists. My view on feminism is that both genders, and what each of them represent, should be equally appreciated. Girl’s interest in playing with dolls and kitchen,or dressing into pink, should be perceived as equally good as her interest in playing with cars and liking blue. The same should apply for boys. Why should you feel embarrased by your son’s doll when you don’t feel that way about your daughter’s car?

    There is a reason why we have our traditional gender roles – they have been beneficial to us in our evolutionary past as hunter-gatherers. There is a reason why females are more drawn to berry-like bright colours, and why girls want to practise early age how to be a parent. I don’t say that society doesn’t play a role, too, in strengthening these roles, but I do think that certain inclinations are intrinsic.

    I guess what I want to emphasize is that equality should not be about making women into men, but rather appreciating female traits as equally valuable. You know, being girly and smart are not mutually exclusive things.

  29. #29 Female Engineering Professor
    April 9, 2008

    I second Kmomilla’s comments. It it kind of goes along with this post here.

    Another interesting read is the book Why Gender Matters by Leonard Sax. It’s full of fascinating facts, like the difference in male and female retinas and all the implications of those differences.

    My big beef with the kitchens was how ugly they were; and how the non-ugly ones were the price of a real functioning kitchen appliance.

    Other Minnow age-appropriate purchases to think about are a small chair or couch, and a little table and chairs for doing crafts. Some children love having furniture their size.

    Last night my almost 5 yr old daughter was noticing how all the teachers at her school were women. We talked a bit about that and the genders at my work and her daddy’s work. And then she said, “But engineering is a girl thing, right mom?”. You betcha kiddo.