My daughter just turned six. I look at her and I can’t believe it. The little girl who we took home from the hospital on that warm May afternoon, all bundled in pink and ruffles and lace just finished kindergarten. We moved out of our first house about six months ago, but her first nursery will never fade from my memory. The walls were purple and everything else was pink. The perfect little nest for our baby.
Her two little sisters are napping right now, so Magoo and I have been playing with some of the presents she got from her birthday party yesterday. She has been playing with glitter; she decorated some bracelets, and now we just finished putting together a pink and purple Lego car. I’m particularly proud of the last one because I’m not too great with Legos, but it definitely looks like it’s supposed to.
My daughter loves knitting and sewing and reading and writing. She likes to bake, but we don’t do that around here as I’m more likely to burn the house down than end up with something edible.
My daughter isn’t rough. If you gave her a foam gun, she would be more likely to finger knit a cozy for it than use it to play shooting games. She loves science and learning about nature, but she’s afraid of bugs. Her dad took her out into the backyard last weekend to search for nature items to view under her new purple microscope. They found almost a dozen things, but when she opened the bag inside, she noticed that there was a bug in there, and well… that was it for science for the day.
My younger two are still too young to figure out what who exactly they will be, and for the most part, my six-year-old is as well. But at least at this stage, she’s your stereotypical girl.
She would rather have an Easy Bake oven than some race cars. She loves My Little Pony but is scared of Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles. And she loves babying her baby dolls and changing their outfits more often than your average celebutante changes her own.
Yup. She’s pretty much your stereotypical girl. And there are people out there who would tell me I’m failing her because of that.
I remember when she was about two years old, I took her through the toy aisles at Target. I think I’ve maybe braved those aisles only a handful of times in the last six years, so each time stands out in my mind. But during that trip, I noticed that there are pink aisles and blue aisles. It was very clear which aisles and toys were for boys and which were for girls, and going into even bigger toy stores makes it even more obvious.
You’ll find some of the same toys in each. Legos can be found in the pink and the blue aisles. With both you can build cars, but the boy cars are blue and the girls’ are pink. You’ll find figurines from the latest television shows. Those, though, are separated by gender with girls’ leaning more towards Disney princesses and boys leaning more towards things that move — cars, trucks, bigger cars, bigger trucks. And then there are the things that are largely separate. You won’t find many baby dolls in the blue aisles and you won’t find much science or sporting equipment in the pink aisles.
I think it’s the last things that bother people. Our culture teaches kids, before they are even old enough to really see at a distance, that pink is for girls and blue is for boys. And then we segregate the toys based upon what we believe each gender would like.
And there has been a lot of fuss about that as of late. People want their daughters to be able to play with cars. They want them to learn science. They want toys that teach engineering. They want them to have options besides toy kitchens and dolls that you can apply make up to.
And that is awesome. That is beyond awesome. Our kids deserve choices, and if marketers aren’t willing to give that to them, then parents need to speak up and vote with their dollars.
With all of this advocating that has been going on, however, I wonder if something is being lost. Girls should have the option to play with as many traditionally boy toys and they like, but what if they don’t want to?
What if a girl likes pink? What if she would prefer her toy cars to be sparkly? What if she enjoys playing dress up with her dolls and pretending to cook in her kitchen and making ruffly headbands?
Sometimes I feel like we are so intent on opening doors for our little girls that we close ones that have previously been available to them.
Overall, I think I have followed a pretty traditional path. I went to college and grad school. I worked in the business world for a year and then I left it to teach writing at the college level. When my girls were born, I quit working outside of the home, and I dedicated my life to them.
And to be honest, I had problems with that. For most of my life, culture had been telling me that in order to live a life of value, I needed to be accomplishing things. I needed quantifiable results. I needed financial results. I needed to prove myself and dedicate my life to cultivating a career I could be proud of.
And that path would have been so nice. There would have been many benefits to it.
But it’s not mine. It’s not the one I chose. It’s not the one that spoke to my soul. And I don’t regret my decision.
It has taken me six years to come to terms with the fact that I have decided that I don’t want to judge my success by a paycheck or a promotion, that I don’t need professional accolades or ever increasing prestige.
I have had to learn to be okay with the little successes in life. Like getting two toddlers to nap at the same time. Or getting my kids to eat all of their vegetables. And I’ve had to learn that that the really big accomplishments for me aren’t quantifiable and they won’t be seen today or tomorrow or next year because they are evolving and they are ongoing. Tasks like instilling self respect and empathy and compassion in my children.
As an adult, I feel as if the whole world is telling me that I am making wrong choices. That it’s telling me that I need to dedicate my efforts to the advancement of some field and that I need to turn my back on the traditionally feminine roles and focus on the more career-oriented ones that in decades and centuries back were the domain of males.
And as a 36-year-old woman, I find those messages disturbing and invalidating and confusing. So I can’t even imagine what the messages do to a six-year-old little girl.
I think we have made so many strides in the last half a century. One upon a time, no one would have blinked when they saw the only toys available to girls indoctrinated them into a world of domesticity. I just don’t want us to go so far to the other direction that we enter a toy store and we see nothing that will help them enter into that world.
It takes all types. We can’t all be scientists, we can’t all be doctors, we can’t all be teachers, and we can’t all be stay-at-home parents. We were born into different circumstances and with different skills and interests. I just want to make sure they are all heard and that my girls feel free to go in whichever directions their hearts and their heads lead them.
There’s nothing wrong with pink any more than there is anything wrong with blue. They are colors. Our children have choices. Let’s let them make those choices rather than forcing our agendas on them.
As usual in my writing, I speak more of little girls than little boys. This isn’t because I don’t believe these issues affect boys any less. It’s just simply that my experience is with girls. If you have any opinions as to how these current gender wars affect boys, I would love to hear them.