Thursday, December 23, 2010

Children's Products and Gender Stereotypes

It begins as soon as you find out you are having a baby: "Oh, are you going to find out what you're having?" "You should hope for a girl.  Girls are so nice and sweet"  "Boys are the best.  You can do all kinds of fun things with boys, even if they are really rowdy."  You get so many opinions on which gender is the best when all you want is a healthy baby.  And are any of these people right, anyway?

The more I look at children's things, the more I realize just how far our culture goes with these ideas.  It's as though someone, somewhere, has already decided what my child should be like because she is a girl.  And in case I am confused, everything is conveniently color-coded pink.  If I am STILL confused, there is also a picture of a female child (wearing the appropriate color, of course) for clarification. 

Take a stroll through the clothing section.  Girls' clothes have flowers, butterflies, and angels; boys' clothes have trucks, tools, and dinosaurs.  Boys' clothes have slogans like "Champ" and "Daddy's Helper"; girls' slogans are things like "Sweety" and "Little Princess."  The overall trend is this: male=useful, female=decorative. 

Now toys are somewhat interesting.  Girls get the V Tech Fun Shapes Jewelry Box - Pink (like there is any other color).  The manufacturer's description: "The V Tech Fun Shapes Jewelry Box features three accessories for learning fun - a square-based lipstick, a circle-shaped comb and a star-shaped perfume bottle. Open the box to reveal a mirror for role-play action as your little girl applies her jewelry. Close the box to view the huge light-up heart button. With two modes of play, girls will never be bored between learning and playing make believe."  Never bored?  I'm bored just reading it! 

If you look at its apparent counterpart, the V Tech Learning Fun Tool Box, you get the description "The Learning Fun Tool Box features play pieces including a screwdriver, wrench, saw and hammer - with realistic sounds. With a little imagination, baby will get the job done using the screwdriver to turn gears, the wrench to turn bolts, and the hammer to tap nails. This box has all the tools to teach shapes, numbers, and colors and features three light-up buttons and two modes of play: Learning Mode and Play Mode."  Notice something different?  There is no "he" or "she," just a gender-neutral "baby."  That type of neutrality is even becoming common for things like kitchen sets.  Well, except for the Step2 Lifestyle Kitchen at Walmart--because all women should aspire to chatting on the phone while cooking dinner.  Hey, at least she's wearing shoes!

Am I putting too much thought into this?  Maybe.  I wore pink, frilly dresses as a child (and liked it), but little of that carried over into adulthood.  The things I wore or played with did not restrict what I have become.  I do think this issue is worth thinking about, if nothing else as a representation of what OUR generation thinks of what it means to be male or female.  After all, the children aren't making these things; we are!

And yes, I do dress my girl in pink clothes.  Sometimes they even have butterflies and say "Little Sweety" on them.  But she has stuff with dinosaurs on it, too--some of them are even colored blue.  :-)  


  1. I hated pink as a child, though I do wear it now. If I had a girl, I wouldn't hesitate for a second to dress her in blue, whereas pink for a boy is strange for me. I guess, in terms of clothes, girls, like women, have more choices in our society :-) My husband is far more liberal here; he was the one who bought our son a onesie with red hearts all over it and never hesitated about the curtains with hearts and flowers. We also used a pink pacifier from a promotional bag and it was the best :-)

  2. It does seem like men are starting to limit themselves. When I was Christmas shopping, I heard a man tell his son that he couldn't have a purple ornament because "purple is for girls." Purple now, too? I can only imagine that red will be next considering it is a component of both pink and purple. LOL