Dec 242010
 

This is it. This is the best I could come up with for my 3½ year-old grand-niece (that I could afford). Feel Better Frog by Manhattan Toys. I hated buying her something so gender-specific, but the choices were abysmal. There were dolls and dollhouses, play kitchens and stuffed animals. I would have gotten her something more gender-neutral, like a chemistry set, but she’s a little young for that.

I had less trouble buying something for her little brother, but then he’s only six months old. Toys for babies tend to be generic: they work equally well for boys or girls. But once children reach the age of three, toys seem to split off into clear gender categories.

One thing that surprised me is that there are so few toys for girls that are “put-together” toys like Legos®. The closest I found was a doll with “snap-on” clothes. What, do toy manufacturers assume that little girls don’t like to make things?

I know that I could have bought my grand-niece a truck or a car, but I was afraid that it wouldn’t interest her. Maybe I’m wrong. But I was also afraid that her parents would think: WTH?

There’s nothing intrinsically wrong with giving a little girl something she can take care of. I’m not saying that we shouldn’t teach our children to be empathetic and caring. And I suppose you could give a little boy the Feel Better Frog. But, be honest, would you?

Even parents who are intent on gender-neutral child-raising find themselves foiled by their children’s requests for gender-specific toys. Little boys want Star Wars toys and little girls want Barbies (or whatever the latest fads are).  Little boys want to make things and little girls want to make nests. Little boys love to fight and little girls love to love. And yet even the experts can’t agree on how much of that is due to a child’s genetic makeup and how much is pressed on a child from his/her earliest moments. (We do persist in putting boy babies in blue and girl babies in pink as if the most important thing about them is what sex they are.)

And of course toy manufacturers cater to these tendencies. I have yet to see, for instance, a Transformer® that is specifically for girls. What would that even look like?

What bothers me the most is that boy toys are more imaginative and varied than girl toys. They also have more to do with the larger world that’s out there. Little girls are encouraged to stay in the home and do domestic duties. Little boys fight wars, travel, go into space, construct things—the possibilities are endless. Sure, little boys are pigeon-holed as well. But at least their choices are more wide-ranging than girls’ choices are. What kind of messages are we sending our children about what their future roles are supposed to be?

I may be way off base here. My grand-niece may not like Feel Better Frog. She may prefer her little brother’s play guitar that makes animal noises. In which case I say more power to her. And I’ll try to make a better choice next time.

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