I was waiting in line to check out at Target when I spied the couple in front of me buying a bath toy we’ve loved for years, and said as much.
“Our baby isn’t even born yet, but we couldn’t resist,” the mom-to-be confessed, and I smiled, because I knew exactly what she meant. Playing with toys again is a chief pleasure of parenthood.
“My daughter’s been playing with it since she was able to sit up in the tub, so it’s a good investment.”
At this she turned to her husband, saying, “See? Her daughter loves it. We don’t know what we’re having yet and he thought that if it’s a girl, she won’t be able to play with it.”
The toy in question?
Just a boat, with a boat captain and fish and a little fishing pole.
So-called boys’ toys and girls’ toys send me flying off the handle on a regular basis, much to the chagrin of my husband, who has heard it all before. But, I did not lose my temper with the soon-to-be dad, nor the expectant mother when she went on to say that maybe they’d have a girl who would be a “tomboy,” thus making the boat an appropriate choice. All I could think was, what is inherently gendered about a boat? And what would be the “girl” equivalent? A tea set? Why is this even a thing?
I don’t blame parents. I remember in college we talked about how difficult it can be to see the limitations of the system you’re living in because you’re living in it, and it feels natural and normal and routine. And our system right now, our culture, has a serious thing about defining what’s for girls and what’s for boys, to the extent that we are determining the parameters of children’s environments before they’re even born, and then insisting that they like the things they like because they’re a girl or because they’re a boy. And I just don’t buy it, not with the amount of work I see reinforcing a world that I’m pretty sure is designed to sell me – and you – more stuff.
Because that world? We decide what goes into it. We reinforce it when we indicate certain behaviors are acceptable for boys and others for girls, when we choose a particular toy of a particular color, when we read stories and watch television and talk about children and to children and around children. When well-intentioned strangers ask me how we’ll manage paying for two weddings in our girls’ futures, I want to scream, “Do you ask parents of boys the same thing?” Every time someone calls my toddler princess. Every time it’s assumed she wants the pink balloon, or the pink crayon, or the pink chair. When she’s feeling shy and that’s deemed okay because she’s a little lady, and conversely, when she’s being a total brute on the playground and her behavior isn’t given a pass because only “boys will be boys.”
Kids will be kids.
Toys are toys.
Enough, enough, enough.