Put a Bib on It

Boys and Girls


I guess if we 'd had boys I'd have to throw out our play kitchen.

I guess if we ‘d had boys I’d have to throw out our play kitchen.

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?

A boat.

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.

Author: Jillian Kuhlmann

Mama. Nerd. Writer.

6 thoughts on “Boys and Girls

  1. My daughter will play with Lalaloopsies one minute and the next with Ninja Turtles. I love that she likes both types.

    • Encouraging play in all forms is a wonderful thing, and good on you for doing so. But the best part is – there aren’t really “types.” They’re just toys. When we give our children all of the options without needlessly categorizing them, we’re opening doors. Keep it up, mama!

  2. This is a pet peeve of mine. I have been an in-home Child Care Provider for over 23 years now. My sons are 29 and 28, and we are raising a 7 year old boy. We have 3 granddaughters, a 3 year old and identical twin 1 year olds. I grew up playing with boys and girls, and we shared toys. Stunning, I know. We raised our older boys with work bench, cars trucks, play kitchen, action figures, and dolls. They grew up to be well adjusted men, and are, no surprise, great fathers! They younger boy, exact same way, with a lot of the hand me down toys mixed in. Enter the girls and you have them playing with the cars and trucks, kitchen and dolls, all side by side and without regard to boy/girl distinction. Any day of the week, you are just as likely to see a pink or purple dish in front of a boy as you are to see a blue or green one in front of a girl. Everyone learns to cook, everyone learns basic sewing, everyone learns laundry, everyone learns to use tools, everyone learns to care for the lawn. You aren’t going to change your child into anything but a happier, more well adjusted, more capable person.

  3. I agree, my 7 year old son made my heart hurt the other day when he asked if other kids didn’t like him because he likes to play with princesses and his favorite color is pink. There is nothing wrong with this and in addition learning to be a good daddy by playing dolls, he enjoys basketball, teeball, and minecraft. I would love a world where we do not define children with such narrow limitations.

    • That is heartbreaking! It sounds like he’s got an awesome mama encouraging him to be who he is, and I hope he – and you – have the strength to keep it up. Thank you for reading and for sharing.

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