Saturday, April 28, 2012


If, as a child, there was a colour that defined me, that colour would have been pink. I wouldn't change a moment of that. I was into all things Barbie and would (and do) still recommend Barbies. There are reasons for this:

1. Barbies got me sewing. I can cut, tailor and embroider, darn a little, sew on a patch and even do plain knitting. I would have been taught this in school and obviously I was heavily influenced by the fact that my mother and aunts were adept needlewomen but my dolls gave me the impetus to sew -- today I consider sewing a life skill.

2. Barbies engendered a lasting love of miniatures. I have a dolls house and even though I haven't played with it in years, I still pick up the right sized furniture for that and my Barbie flat (a shelf in a cabinet.) Thanks to this interest I learnt to make my own dolls furniture, picking up basic craft skills along the way.

3. Barbies were all about role play, from my Wedding Midge to my Barbie babies. I loved every moment. I celebrated all festivals, decorated their flat more than I've ever bothered with my own homes and in general picked up a lot about life just because I wanted to live out all of theirs.

I do not recommend buying up the trash that passes for Barbie merch these days. Just a doll and lots of clothes is a great start, especially since furniture can be made or picked up dirt cheap at fairs.

I belonged to the Barbie Fan Club and hoarded my pink giveaways. (This January I finally gave them away to another pink-crazy girl, our friends' daughter Chinky.) So you see, pink, lavender, mauve -- these were all my default colours. I still love them but like PinkStinks, I am horrified at how insistently they are now thrust on our girls. I do read a lot into how toys are conceived and structured and I was glad to find a piece that mirrored my own outrage at the insidious ways in which toys are marketed to us and our children. I used to get terribly offended at how my brother got all the soldiers and cars and I was not even allowed to look at them because I was only a girl; now I get offended with a society that teaches my son to not 'cry like a girl' or 'wear girly colours' or 'play with girl toys'.

You know something? Little boys enjoy dressing up every bit as much as little girls do (i.e. some do and some don't and gender has nothing to do with it.) My son has always noticed my clothes and my hair and my jewellery and I noticed when he stopped commenting on them. When I asked him why he said that his classmates had said those were 'girl things' and he must not bother with them. Why are we teaching our sons to stop noticing beauty? This was when he was three and in preschool and over time I noticed he developed a dismissive attitude to women. My opinions were worth less than his father's, my needs mattered less, his grandmothers were recepient to more rudeness, it was a very clear gender line.

Last June he joined big school. In a few months I was delighted to see his tune had changed. The little girls in his class are all about attitude and he took a licking but learnt that girls too were fun and interesting and it was as much as his (school)life was worth to air his MCP views there. I cannot tell you how much this pleased me. Now his friends include as many boys as girls and he speaks of them all with equal respect (which is to say, none).

I don't say my ways are perfect but here are ways in which my friends and I fight against excessive 'genderisation' of our children:

1. Buy them the toys they want as well as those they should have. So buy your sons the kitchen sets (mine didn't know he wanted one but he proudly made me tea and omelettes and pancakes with his) and your daughter the handy-man kits. My son has a Barbie and I gift his female friends Hot Wheels. At this age, a toy is a toy is a toy. Also, I only ever got gifted one car in my entire childhood and that bloody rankles.

2. Give them the entire rainbow in their wardrobes. Don't restrict your shopping to the gendered aisles. As a baby Rahul wore the most adorable colour block onesies and tees in pinks and mauves and soft greens (I found some in Mothercare); as he grew older I found him baby pink skivvies and cream cords and fire engine red jeans from the girls' aisles; right now he has skinny purple jeans and I think a sweater that were intended for little girls. While shopping across aisles I also discovered that little girls' trousers have ridiculous cuts (why give little girls low rises that fall off their poor bums? Or legs too tight to run in?)

3. Watch your conversation and behaviour. Vicky says "Don't cry like a girl." I never do. Not because I think it's OK for Rahul to be a watering spout but because I don't want him to think that emulating a girl could ever be wrong. Cousin J (a girl) said, "You throw like a girl." I stopped her because, with no false modesty whatsoever, among Vicky, Rahul and me, I play more and harder than my boys. So yeah, I might throw badly but I can play more games and sports than Vicky ever has and Rahul may ever learn. I make it a point to say these things out loud. When Rahul grew goggle-eyed because I was driving despite Vicky being in the car, I was proud because it taught him that no, driving was not a man thing. His father is the better driver probably because he's been at it longer, not because he's male. Let me clarify that I don't set myself up as a standard against which mere males must measure up. What I do is try not to unnecesarily drag gender into conversations. Sometimes it's necessary, but mostly it's not.

I still love my pinks but then, today, when I think of pink I think of them and her as well as my beloved dolls. It's all about the balance.


R's Mom said...

Super super post Sue! I am so against this generalisation of for girls/ blue for super irks me!

you can sew? thats super...I can just sew buttons and some slightly torn clothes...but otherwise, I really cant do it!

Neera said...

Excellently balanced post - classic Sue style :)
"Let me clarify that I don't set myself up as a standard against which mere males must measure up. What I do is try not to unnecesarily drag gender into conversations. Sometimes it's necessary, but mostly it's not."

You rock Sue!

I am glad for the kind of toys, friends and experiences my kids are exposed to by virtue of them being siblings of the opposite sex. And you are right, while V cooks up a meal and one of his dream jobs is to grow up and cook up all kind of exquisite dishes, J knows more about Star Wars than an average child (boy/girl) her age and changed her mind to buy a light saber (kind of Star Wars sword) when she reached the store when she had initially intended to buy a dress for her toy baby.
The alphamom article u linked to is quite an eye-opener. To see all those images compiled together, I almost felt like throwing up!

Suchismita said...

Honestly, stopped reading after the Barbie points because I got all misty-eyed! I never got to sewing and knitting like you, but few things compare to the pleasures of hoarding Barbie dolls and furniture. The stuff you get these days don't even compare to the ones we had back then. Sigh, and now I wish I could take all my stuff back from my niece and have a nice little flat for Barbie like you!

stillfiguringmom said...

As a new mom I find it disturbing when people around me reinforce gender stereotypes all the time through the toys that they get their kids. I am sure a 7 month old does not choose blue over pink, tractor over barbie, I hope there are more parents like you who allow kids to be without imposing their own prejudices on them!

Sue said...

R's Mom -- If you can mend and fix on buttons then you're already head and shoulders above all my cousins. ;)

Neera -- Your comment reminded me of why I've always felt the ideal family ought to have both sons and daughters. If you have kids of only one sex then you really should make an effort to give them a lot of interaction with kids of the other sex. I think it makes for healthier adults.

Suchismita -- :)

Still Figuring -- Well, you'll be one, I'm sure. :) My son has kitchen sets, Barbies, purses and trinkets as well as vehicles of all kinds, dinosaurs, tools and insects. Come to think of it, the child has too many toys!

Cee Kay said...

I am with you on this a 100%!!

Pink was never my color, though I do wear it and have been told it looks good on me. But it isn't the color I would go to, if I had a choice.

My grouse is similar to yours - my girls weren't even given a chance to decide what color they liked - pink was thrust upon them. THAT is what bugs me. Thankfully, S grew up to have a mind of her own and likes (and tries) other colors now. M is still in the pink and purple phase, which is okay.

I agree wholeheartedly - we have to watch our conversations closely to cut out any gender stereotype messages we might be sending out. In my house, crying is not frowned or commented upon, chores are not gender-specific and I try my best not to generalize anything one way or the other.