Sunday, March 31, 2013

I got the Easter-shoppin' blues....

About a month ago I started asking my 3 year old what he wanted the Easter Bunny to bring him.  This kid LOVES holidays so I always start the conversation early just to see his face light up.  From the get-go he told me he wanted a Miss Piggy, Tinker Bell Surprise Eggs (banned in the U.S.) and Batman. I have to say I was pleasantly surprised and happy that he picked toys not marketed "for boys".  In my previous posts you'll see we've had a few discussions about "girls toys" and "boys toys" which he learned about from someone at preschool.

What happened next is what has given me the Easter-shoppin' blues.  I googled Miss Piggy first and my excitement immediately diminished.  Miss Piggy may be a "non-boy" toy, but she's a non-boy toy boy-toy. (see what I did there?) She's just like every other toy of a female in that the focus is on looking pretty.  While she may be a no-nonsense kind of pig in the shows, when you have just the figure with no voice box, she's just another princess in pink.  She doesn't do anything, like many "girl toys". She's just pretty to look at. I want my son to have a more positive female toy to play with.  I want toys that show him diverse versions of females.  I want him to see that females can do or be anything they want to be.  And yes, there is a place for a princess, but that can't be all there is. Besides, only very few people in the world can actually grow up to be a princess.

I didn't have much luck with Tinker Bell either. She can at least fly, but she wears a dress that barely covers her top or bottom. Also, someone please explain to me why a kids toy needs to be busty. Can we avoid the sexual references until their in their teens at least, please? The Surprise Eggs are banned in the U.S. so those were out of the question.

I went to Wal-Mart and Target to see if they had figures/characters/dolls that would work. When I got to the "pink isle" I quickly realized what I was up against. There were of course Barbies with all their various clothes and shoes and pretend cell phones and make up.  There were Tinker Bells dolls but they didn't do anything and they still had the short skirt.

Then I found Dora. Good ol' Dora! But wait, what have they done to Dora?! The little girl in shorts with a little bit of a belly that uses her brain to solve problems and help friends has had one of those horrible make-overs! She has been slimmed down and put in a dress.  She went from being an active little girl to looking like one of the passive "fashion dolls" everywhere else on that isle.

How am I supposed to teach my sons that there is more to women than their beauty if all of the toys out there that represent girls are ones made to stand there and look pretty.  I thought I at least had Dora to fall back on, but there wasn't one Dora doll with her trademark shorts on in that isle. Thank goodness the show on Nick Jr. that my son watches hasn't switched over to the glamorized Dora.

I finally found a few things that I was comfortable with buying for my son's Easter presents based on his requests. The Easter Bunny brought him a Brave DVD (a strong female character that isn't focused on love), a Jessie figure from Toy Story (although she's the only figure from that movie that comes with a stand, like that's what she should be doing...standing still), Green Eggs & Ham by Dr. Suess, Cars jelly beans, a Hot Wheel car, and Dora and Diego eggs.  I even found a pink (his favorite color) basket to put all that in. He was very happy and so was I.

However, I still think we should have better options for our kids as far as female characters.  Are we still only wanting girls to play dress up and put on make up?  In 2013, don't we want to encourage girls to be active and not passive?  Don't we want them to dream of being doctors, lawyers, fire fighters, astronauts, and engineers just like we encourage our boys to?

Just by walking down the "pink isle" you can see that the message for girls is that they should focus on their appearance because their beauty is what is important, learn to be mothers because that will be their job one day, perfect their make up technique, talk on a cell phone, go shopping and throw a party. There is so much more that girls and women are capable of if we just encourage them instead of stomping on their self-esteem and telling them their not pretty enough.

Friday, March 22, 2013

Pink for boys

My 3 year old son's favorite color is pink.  This naturally occurred with no prompting from me.  I introduced him to all the colors and he decided for himself that pink is what he likes best.  I personally don't like pink because of all the stereotypes that go along with it for girls/women.  However, if a child, either male or female, likes chooses pink as their favorite color after always having access to all the colors then that is fine by me.  So, when Jackson said "PINK!" was his favorite I didn't make a big deal of it.

When Jackson was 1 we took him to buy a sun hat for the beach/pool.  There were several on the rack and when asked he said he wanted the one with pink on it and then the blue one with fish.  My husband and I looked at each other trying to decide what to do.  We didn't want to push him one way or the other.  However, we chickened out and gave in to the gender stereotypes.  I guess we were a little worried about what people would say.  (Yes, I know that is opposite of what I "preach".)  We love him so dearly and don't want anyone to make fun of him.  We asked him again which hat he wanted and this time he said the fish hat so we went with that and got the hell out of the store.  Amateur mistake, but he's not scarred for life.

When he was 2 I took him shopping for sandals. He spotted pink Crocs on the wall at the end of the isle and announced to all of Target that he wanted the pink shoes.  You bet your ass I bought them for him.  That's what he wanted and he needed shoes.  Plus I was more confident this time that pink really was his favorite color and I was not about to make him feel bad about that.  He wore them proudly everywhere he went.  We did have one of the neighbor kids ask if he was a boy or a girl when he was playing outside in his Crocs.  My husband just said "boy" and the kid said something like "oh I wasn't sure because of his shoes".  What a dumb ass thing to say.  Is that how you figure out someone's gender?  Their shoes color?  That's what I would have liked to have said if I were there.  But even if I was, I am perpetually too nice to people and wouldn't have dared.  Plus, he was just a kid and I seriously doubt his parents would have bought him pink shoes.  Not his fault.

This is the only thing that worries us about letting Jackson do something that bucks stereotypes.  He's such a kind soul and wants to be friends with everyone.  I have a feeling I'm going to want to kick a lot of people's asses in the future.  Unless, of course, if we can break out of these stereotype boxes and start letting kids be who they want and not who we tell them they should be.

The other day I took Jackson with me to get myself some new pants.  While we were walking through the store we spotted bathing suits in the boys section.  He's getting close to growing out of his black trunks with sharks on them so I decided to see what they had.  He said (in the most adorable little voice possible) "I want pink swim trunks because pink is my favorite color!"  So, we looked at what they had.  He passed over Thomas (who he loves), Sponge Bob (who he wants to like but I won't let him watch yet), and Angry Birds (which he's seen his daddy play on his phone).  I really thought he would be side-tracked by the Thomas trunks but he wasn't having it.

So we're on the hunt for a pair of boys swim trunks in pink.  Any suggestions?  So far the only one's I've found were $30 and I'm not about to spend that on those tiny little shorts.

Sunday, March 10, 2013

The Lego debate

While I sit here at my local Starbucks pondering my next move in my discussion with my 3 1/2 year old, I'm reflecting on some of the other conversations I've had with Jackson since the Toys R' Us incident. He and I were playing legos in his room and he said something about the little man sitting up in the lego tower. I asked him if he had a little woman that could sit up in his tower too. He said "I'm a boy and I only play with boys toys. Womens are girl toys and only girls play with girl toys." Realizing my explanation to him in the toy store that "toys are for everybody" didn't sink in, I continued down this path with my fingers crossed.

I asked him the difference between girl toys and boy toys and he just said "boys play with boy toys and girls play with girl toys". He's three, almost four. He doesn't understand some words so I'm not sure he knew what I was asking when I told him to tell me the "difference" between those toys. I again assured him that he could play with any toy that he liked and that toys are for everybody. "BUT I'M A BOY AND I PLAY WITH BOY TOYS NOT GIRL TOYS!" Yes, here comes the melt down. I know it's because he's being told one thing at home and learning another at school.  It's got to be confusing for him. I'm seriously pissed at these Preschool people, I'm just not sure how to approach it with him.

I held him and snuggled him and told him it was alright. "Yes, I know you're a boy, but that has nothing to do with what toys you can play with. You can play with any toys that you like and so can other little boys and girls. Mommy and Daddy played with all kinds of toys when they were your age."  He eventually calmed down and I gave him a bath. That seemed to soothe him. It at least distracted him because he got to play with the bubbles and his boats. I knew it was futile to try to reason with him any further when he was already in meltdown mode.

The next day we were playing legos again and I told him we needed to get him more so he could build more things. "Did you know that they have pink legos, Jackson?" I said. "I want some pink legos! Pink is my favorite color!" Aha! So they have told him that he can't play with girl toys but they haven't told him everything that would be classified as girl toys (like anything that is pink). They know his favorite color is pink. He plays with the pink ball in the gym in the mornings when we drop him off. So, maybe it's the teachers or maybe it's the other kids, or both. He's only said the teachers have told him about boy toys and girl toys. This warrants further investigation.

He likes vacuums and cooking and kitchen stuff so he either hasn't been told those are for girls or he chooses not to listen to that nonsense. Maybe since his daddy is the cook in our family, and the best cleaner for that matter, that they didn't change his mind about those things. It's hard to figure this stuff out when you're dealing with a 3 - 4 year old. I just have to check my reactions as soon as he blurts stuff like this out and then be strategic with how I respond. I don't want to upset him, I just want him to be free to be who he is. I told my husband that if he ends up only liking cars and trains and trucks then that is fine with me, as long as it is his choice and not something that he thinks he has to like because he is a boy.

Yesterday I asked him two separate times what he wanted the Easter Bunny to bring him and he immediately said "Miss Piggy!" and then later "Tinker Bell surprise eggs and Cars surprise eggs". So, there is some evidence that he's well balanced in his likes and confident enough to not let what someone else says limit him. I feel like I'm on a roller coaster! They say being a parent is hard work but I don't think they meant this. It would be so easy to push the whole pink/blue agenda on him, but it's so much more rewarding to let him explore what he likes and be who he is. I'm so proud of him.

I wonder how things will go with Myles...

Sunday, March 3, 2013

Girl Toys vs. Boy Toys

Yesterday I took my oldest son Jackson who is almost 4 years old to Toys R' Us.  I had promised him that if he was good all week that I would get him some "Mighty Beans" that he had seen on Youtube.  More on my Ok-ness with a little bribery every now and then later.  Jackson has gotten very good at using an iPad and we let him watch child-appropriate videos on Youtube.  He discovered these "Mighty Beans" while watching Toy Story videos.  In the store we walked around looking at all the toys trying to find these tiny beans in a sea of colors and catchy names.  Finally an employee asked me if we were finding everything ok.  I told him what we were looking for and he easily directed me to them.  The themes for these beans that they had in the store were Cars, Spider Man and Darth Vader.  I guess Mighty Beans aren't advertised to girls.  The name should have been a dead give away.  When was the last time you saw a toy for girls that referred to it as "mighty".  Anyway, he had seen the Cars beans so he quickly picked those out.

Since he was behaving himself I decided that we would walk around so I could get ideas for presents for his birthday.  We went to the closest isle and were immediately engulfed in a sea of pink.  Pink dresses, pink dolls, pink kitchen sets, pink cleaning toys, and so on and so forth.  I thought he might get excited seeing as how his favorite color is pink and he was wearing his hot pink hat that his Poppa crocheted for him.  I said "Look at all these toys, Jackson!"  I near 'bout fell on the floor when he said "those are all girl toys".  Gasp!  I gathered myself before he noticed my reaction and said "What did you say honey?".  "Those are girl toys, Mommy" he said.  "Why are those girl toys?" I asked.  "Those are girl toys because they are the toys that girls like" he explained.  "Oh really, who told you that?" I asked.  "Miss Sue and Miss Laura and Miss Amy" he said, not catching on to where I was going with our conversation.  "Well, that's silly!  Toys are for everybody!  You can play with any toy you'd like.  You don't have to be a girl to play with any of these toys and there aren't toys that are just for boys.  Did you know that, Jackson?  Toys are for everybody!" I explained.  "Oh! Yeah!" he said with no irony in his voice.

I was disturbed.  My precious child whom I had raised having access to all kinds of toys and colors was being brainwashed by the teachers at his preschool.  This preschool had assured me that his love of the color pink would be supported.  When I told her we didn't follow strict gender roles I was told that they once had a male student who wore dresses to school and he was supported.  I'm thinking I need to have a conversation with Miss Sue.  He certainly didn't get this nonsense from me or my husband or any of our family members that babysit him and his little brother.  I'm going to have to turn on my Southern charm so I don't piss her off (even though I am pissed that this has been going on) and have to find another preschool for Jackson.  I'm hoping that once they are reminded that my child is able to play with any toy he wants and no child should be limited on what toys they can play with based on what's between their legs they will stop filling his head with non-sense.

Having watched my children grow I have seen how if you give them all the options they will pick what they like and that they are unaware of gender roles until you teach it to them.  You only have to tell them once that "pink is for girls and blue is for boys" and gender roles are forever ingrained (unless you teach them otherwise).  Children are like sponges and are constantly trying to learn about the world that we live in.  Gender roles are about control.  People are more easily understood if they fit neatly in little boxes.  But when those roles limit or oppress one set of people (and in turn all of us) then that is discrimination.  There are no biological reasons why girls should like pink and boys should like blue.  Back in the Victorian era pink was for boys and blue was for girls.  Their reasoning then was that pink was a watered down version of red which was associated with aggression and strength while blue was associated with the Virgin Mary.  The need nowadays to keep boys from playing with pink and dolls and girls from playing with trucks and bugs is because of a fear of homophobia.  As if giving a boy a baby doll dressed in pink will make a boy like other boys in a sexual way instead of simply teach them how to take care of a child.  People are born homosexual or heterosexual.  It has nothing to do with nurture, it's nature.  This is about hatred of LGBT individuals and homophobic people not wanting their kids to be homosexual.  You've heard of those "churches" that try to convert gays and lesbians to "straightness".  It's all about fear and hatred.  If either or both of my boys are homosexual there's nothing I can or would do to change that.  I love them for who they are and want them to be happy, the same as if they are heterosexual.

Another reason why our society has these gender roles is to oppress women.  Toys targeted to girls are about tending to babies, cooking, cleaning and looking pretty.  Toys targeted to boys are about being aggressive, getting dirty, and violence.  We may not be in the 40's and 50's these days, but there is still an assumption that it is the female's responsibility to take care of the kids and the home and the male's job to go to war or bring home the bacon.  We've certainly made a lot of strides and it is more acceptable for men to tend to kids and the house and women to earn the family income.  In our home Bill is the chef, does the dishes and vacuums.  I manage our finances and do the laundry and we both work outside the home.  We've found a balance that works for us and it is not based on our gender.  It is based on our interests and strengths.  But, our family is more of an exception instead of the rule.  Our society would be a lot happier and more prosperous if people were allowed to be themselves from the get-go and use their strengths instead of being told who they can be and criticized if they stray out of those tiny gender boxes.  Think about it and open your eyes next time you walk down a toy isle.