So it’s Christmas time again. Technically it was Christmas time once the kids returned to school but no one wants to actually admit that the ads for toys on TV seemed to increase the second week of September. And the flyers that come with the weekend newspaper all of a sudden seemed to take on a particular wintry feel that many associate with the Christmas season. And no one wants to talk about the increase in party dresses, sequined tops, teeney-tiny beaded purses or glittery shoes. But it’s all there. And as every day draws us closer and closer to this magical time that is supposed to bring us cheer and unite us in peace and love, some of us start to get more and more pissed off at the 240th playing of “Rudolph the Red-nosed Reindeer”. Although I have a confession: that is my favourite Christmas special. I love it. Especially the Bumbles. They bounce.
Now that my children are older I have come to dread Christmas as much as I dread trying on swimsuits. I really, really, really loathe the ads for toys. I loathe the “boy toys” and the “girl toys” and the inevitable debate about sexism in the toy world. I get that toys are targeted, and marketed, towards a gender bias. I don’t like it. I don’t like any kind of marketing that targets a particular gender, race, religion, or income bracket. It’s this kind of thing that creates a class system and I thought we had all outgrown the “I’m better than you.” mentality. But, alas, advertisers have not.
So this brings me to something I saw recently about Lego’s aimed at girls. It was this article from NPR about how Lego’s have increased their sales to girls by making “girl” themed Lego sets. This makes me see red.
Toys by their very nature are gender neutral. When a toy is made it is an inanimate object like a table or chair. We don’t genderize (is that even a word? If not, it is now) furniture because it’s just an inert thing that sits in the living room or dining room or where ever. It’s just a thing. We use a table the way we do because someone thought it was a good idea but we could use a chair or the floor or anything flat as a table if we wanted to. It is just an object for our use. And that’s exactly what toys are. They are tools by which we entertain, or educate, our children. That’s all.
What happens then that makes a toy become genderized? It is our perception of that toy that makes it a “girl” toy or a “boy” toy. We have been brainwashed all our lives that pink is for girls and blue is for boys but, again, they are just colours. How it got to be this way I will never know. Some clever marketing by the stork I imagine. In any case, we have also been brainwashed by studies that say that girls are better at relationships than boys, they are better at language skills than math or science, they can’t compete physically with boys etc., etc., etc. Well, ok, the last one may be true but I know women who are firefighters and throw around those hoses like nobody’s business. Me, I can pick up a bag of kitty litter or a bag of soil but that’s about it. I have never had a particularly strong upper body. And, besides, there are a lot of weak men out there so maybe I will retract my statement agreeing that men are stronger than women. *sheepish*
So, toys. Yeah. My girls had trucks, cars, tools, dolls, horses, legos, wooden building blocks, doll houses…all manner of toys. If they saw something they liked it didn’t matter if it was thought to be a “boy” toy or a “girl” toy, I figured they were creative and imaginative and would figure out the best way to play with it. Consequently, their Barbie’s built houses and skyscrapers and barns and fixed their own cars or trucks. Barbie’s went camping and chased away bears, cut wood, made fires and cooked dinners. They had one Ken doll that never really got played with, he languished in the toy box, an unwanted bachelor. Meanwhile, Barbie was out taming horses, mucking out stalls, driving dump trucks and excavators and building sand castles. And if an arm fell off or a leg was broken then she became a disabled Barbie who learned how to do things with one hand or one leg or the others built her a prosthesis.
Toys don’t care how they are played with. They don’t cry in the toy box at night saying things like, “I’m a truck. I’m not meant to be pink.” or “I’m Barbie. I hate getting my hair dirty.” It is up to the child’s imagination what that truck or doll or building block or airplane or GI Joe or whatever means to them. It is up to the child’s imagination to decide what they are going to do with that toy on any given day. My kids Barbie’s were doctors, lawyers, veterinarians, school teachers, electricians, horse trainers, engineers…you name it. What all this freedom to decide did was allowed them to imagine a world where they too could be all those things. That a hammer and nail wasn’t something mystifying that only a man could use.
I hate that companies think that segregating toys into “girl” and “boy” brackets is the only way to sell them. I hate that Lego has seen an increase in the sale of their building blocks to girls since introducing them two years ago. It means, not that girls demand toys in the shape of shopping malls or toys that are family related or toys that have pretty flowers or animals or children (and what is with that picture above the article anyway? Why is it the man at the bbq? Oh, right, because that is the typical “man” thing to do. Don’t get me started on that one.), but that roles are still being defined by gender. That parents are still buying into the “pink is for girls” and “blue is for boys” mentality. And that by playing into our insecurities about being different – we must treat our children this way or they will be shunned and labeled nerds or geeks or worse – gender marketing works. Just look how they market Mother’s Day and Father’s Day.
We need to move beyond this gender-based society. It maintains a class system by making sure we view ourselves as different. Women have been traditionally viewed as a second class society. By maintaining these stereotypes in ourselves and our children we will continue to be marginalized. How can we be taken seriously if what we want for Christmas is a pair of Christian Loubouton shoes? Or a diamond bracelet? Or a new dishwasher? Ok, that last one isn’t a good example because I would love one for Christmas or any occasion actually. But you get what I’m saying. In order to stop sexism we have to stop looking at ourselves as “women” and “men” and stop buying toys that are aimed at a specific sex. I know this is happening and more people are thinking like this than when my girls were young but it really is going to have to take a giant leap of faith by some manufacturers that by allowing toys to be gender neutral is saying that kids are smart and imaginative and they don’t need us to tell them how to play.
In other news – tomorrow I’m hitting the mall to find something suitable to wear on Monday. I have had to admit to myself that even I, a pretty fast knitter, can’t knit a lace panel and two lace sleeves in one day. And I need the sleeves because my arms are hideous. Flabby doesn’t quite describe the lack of muscle tone. The cartoons that show the guy flexing his muscle only to have it slide under his arm and hang loosely is about as good a description as any. So I need sleeves of some sort.
I thought I could just knit some opera length gloves but then there is that problem of finding a pattern and the yarn and then the actual knitting that seems to catch me up every time. My brain keeps saying, “You can do it”, and then a hand seems to come from nowhere and smack me upside the head. Nevermind the fact that opera length gloves won’t really cover the problem area. Wearing a bolero or shrug or scarf or stole or something like that isn’t an option because then I’m covering the lace panel which is what I found so attractive about this sweater in the first place.
So off to the mall I go. To try on things that I know will probably not look quite right on me. To battle the crowds and wish cattle prods were legal and wouldn’t be considered a concealed weapon. To try to find something in my price range that doesn’t look like I made it from stuff I found at the Dollar store. I will probably head off to the Salvation Army or another thrift store to find a black pencil skirt. They never go out of style so I’m pretty sure I should be able to find one at a good price. My daughter found a really lovely black suede pencil skirt during our last outing there so I shouldn’t have a problem. The problem will be finding a suitable top.
I like this look but it’s a little too casual for the evening. Something like this if it had sleeves. Gah! I tried searching for what I wanted and saw all kinds of gowns with trains and tulle and sequins and slits up to there…who wears that stuff? What I wanted was a simple, yet elegant, white shirt with a nice simple black skirt. I thought that with the right accessories I could dress it up. I’m already starting to feel very, very frustrated.
So tomorrow if you are near Square One in Mississauga, Ont. Canada and you see someone with flaming red hair heading toward you, it might be wise to run the other way, especially if it’s near the end of the day and she is empty-handed. You never know if she may be carrying a concealed cattle-prod.