In the past few days and discussions I’ve had, I’ve been forced to really reflect on how my upbringing has influenced my views on gender.
I am the youngest of 4 daughters. Even though we constantly tease my dad, saying he was more and more disappointed when each child was born and none of them sons, gender was never a major issue within my immediate family. My parents allowed us to do just about whatever we wanted. We had both “boy” and “girl” toys. Mostly I remember playing with Legos, army men, coloring books. I did have an awesome set of Grace Kelly paper dolls, so classy. We had both Barbies and Ninja Turtles. My bedroom was decorated with both Micheal Jordan posters and The Little Mermaid garb, which I loved equally. When we went shopping, we were allowed to buy pretty much whatever we wanted, be it sparkly dresses or flannel shirts from the boys’ section. I played basketball and did Tae Kwon Do while I collected teddy bears. All I really wanted in life was to be as badass as Scully and Leia.
I say all of this remembering that I am the youngest. There are 8 years between my oldest sister and I; I guarantee her experience was different. I’m sure it took my parents quite a bit of trial and error to get to this point of gender neutrality in child rearing. And, what I consider to be the most powerful, is that I don’t think they did this purposefully. I know my parents. They did not sit down and have a conversation about how they would handle gender issues, would they shop in the “pink aisle” or the “blue aisle”? After a few years of dealing with some fairly assertive little girls, they were able to just let us choose what we wanted, relatively free from the thought “is this toy gender appropriate?” My dad loved being able to coach my basketball team and set up my army men on the coach. Perhaps it did cross his mind that this wasn’t what little girls were “supposed to do,” but whatevs! We played and it was an epic battle.
As we grew up, girl issues (the first time you shave your legs, your first period, etc.) were open and pretty nonchalant. Girlhood was both overt and inconsequential. Buying tampons for the first time came without shame. I remember one day I had to dress up in a skirt for school but I wanted to play basketball at recess, so I did. The other girls made fun of me and I didn’t get why. Other than “keep your legs closed when you’re wearing a dress,” we were never really told rules for being a girl.
Of course, as much as I praise this, I do think it makes me slightly (more) socially awkward (than simply being a language problemed, robot enthusiast). I was told just a year or so ago by a guy friend of mine, that he didn’t know if was supposed to hug me or punch me in the shoulder when we departed.
In no way am I gender-confused or desiring to be more male-ish. I lurv my make-ups, my sexy shoes, my cleavage, and other perks associated with traditional femininity. But I also love not feeling limited to all of those things that are stereotypically attributed to proper womanhood. I refuse to limit myself to things that are stereotypically female, but I don’t purposefully go after things that are considered masculine. For a while, in my silly youth, I did this. I would work hard to prove I wasn’t limited to femininity, like not wear make up (wtf? Make up is just fun if you’re doing it right!), wear men’s or gender-neutral shirts, make job goals that were traditionally masculine (like taking the stocking shift at the grocery store I worked at as a teen), etc. I realized that, by doing this, I was actually limiting myself and my choices. When I reflect on this, I see a really naiive girl trying to prove that she was strong and equal in a teenage world that demanded demure, passive women. But fuck. I feel so much better allowing myself both. I can drink both margaritas and beer. I can go to the gym for kickboxing or bake cupcakes, and everything in between.
This post was really inspired by the Toy Aisle Action Project, which aims to point out the discrepancy between the previously mentioned “pink aisle” and “blue aisle.” I’ll do a more in depth post about that, because I love it! (check it out here: http://www.sparksummit.com/2012/02/02/toy-aisle-action-project-lets-make-shoppers-think/) But also from reading the Comments section on a page covering the Lego: Friends petition (the Huffpost’s review of it is right here:http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2012/01/15/lego-friends-girls-gender-toy-marketing_n_1206293.html) . I found a ton of comments saying that if you let girls play with “boy” toys (like, normal lego sets) they will grow up to be lesbians and be confused about their gender when they grow up. This is obviously fucking sexist, homophobic, ignorant. I hate these people and ignore the fact that they exist. However, what bothered me more were the ones that said either A) “there are natural differences between boys and girls and their play, this is what girls want” or B) “if girls don’t want to play with it, they won’t.” Well, here are my arguments:
A) At this point in time, we have not been able to identify organic difference between how boys and girl play or what they want without the influence of socialization. Boys and girls are socialized very quickly into the world and what it means to be each gender. Girls are readily put into pink onsies with bows and flowers on them while boys are put into blue onsies with trucks and animals. Expectations are placed on them from day 1. A little girl has a strong kick and everyone says she is going to grow up to be a ballerina. A little boy has a strong kick and he is dubbed a future football star. Girls are rarely given the opportunity to freely play with blocks or action-oriented toys. Boys are rarely given the opportunity to freely play with dolls or nurture oriented toys. You cannot say differences are natural, because we simply don’t know. To what extent are they natural or imposed by social expectation?
B) No. This is not true. Children do not buy their own toys. Although they have a say in toys bought by their parents, many of the toys a child has were gifts. Often, toys are given to children by people who do not know them well or people who simply have a go to toy to buy for a boy or a girl. Think about it: your niece is having her fourth birthday party. You hardly know her or what she’s into, so you run down the pink aisle and find something cute. More often than not, gifts are genderized because we assume a girl will like a girl toy or a boy will like a boy toy. Gender neutral toys are disappearing fast because they’re harder to market. But anyway, I digress. So, basically, a girl, who maybe or maybe doesn’t like dolls, ends up getting dolls as gifts and those are the toys she has to play with. So she does. But what would she do if she had blocks? Action figures? Action figures that were girls? (ghasp! think of the adventures and identification!) What if a boy got a baby doll? My other half of this argument is that many, many, many children have certain toys taken away from them because they’re not “for them.” A Barbie doll is quickly grabbed away from a little boy. A toy gun is snatched from a little girl. So no, the argument that if a child doesn’t want it, they won’t get it, is invalid.
I guess my whole point here is this: Give kids all the opportunities to play and experiment with the world that are possible! Don’t limit them. Let them decide who they are.
And thanks parents!