...part two

I wrote about the Rose Petal Cottage on Friday and received some interesting comments - some through this blog, and some through email and phone conversations. I want to attempt to address some of them here. Bear with me - I know exactly how I feel about this subject, but I'm not sure my views come across clearly.

I absolutely agree that there's nothing wrong with being a stay-at-home mom if that's what you choose. When I had Malayna, I was sure that I'd want to go right back to work. And I did, at first. But after a few weeks I realized it wasn't what I really wanted to do - I wanted to be home with her AND work. Luckily, I had a job at the time that allowed me to do just that.

By not buying toys like the Rose Petal Cottage, I'm making a (small) statement. I do NOT want to give money to a company that perpetuates the stereotype that women should be homemakers. If I bought her a toy like that, I would feel like a hypocrite.

The aisles are overrun with princess and frilly fairy costumes. What about a dress-up outfit that consists of a business suit and a mini-briefcase? There are plenty of moms who go to work dressed like this - and I'm sure their daughter would love to look just like mommy. Also, why don't the "girl" aisles have firefighter or construction costumes?

My biggest problem with the princess/pink/everything girly craze is that it teaches girls that they're valued because of how they look. After all, what do princesses DO? Why do most of the fairy tales end with the princess finding a prince? This is 2007! We, as women, have more choices than that. Where's the fairytale about the girl who grew up to be an artist and own her own business?!

The problem, according to Lyn Mikel Brown, a professor of human development and education at Colby College, is 25,000 princess products. “When one thing is so dominant, then it’s no longer a choice: It’s a mandate, cannibalizing all other forms of play. There’s the illusion of more choices out there for girls, but if you look around, you’ll see their choices are steadily narrowing,” Brown said.

It's not that this ONE toy will lead her to believe that being a girl means you look pretty, have a pretty house and grow up to have babies. It's that there are MILLIONS of those toys out there that have the same message. I have to work just a little harder to find the toys that teach her other things. Toys like art supplies, doctor kits, blocks, trucks and cars, gardening supplies, science kits...

As a girl, I loved playing with Barbies. {Yes! I admitted it!} But I also loved riding my bike, catching frogs, swimming in the lake and building forts. {Our family spent summers at a campground for years.} Princesses don't ride bikes and the only thing they do with frogs is kiss them so they'll turn into a handsome prince.

I think many parents follow society's lead when it comes to gender stereotypes. It not only affects their children, it also affects my daughter. Once she gets to school she'll hear all kinds of things about what girls can and cannot do. We each have our own values that we pass along to our children. I want her to know that she can do anything she wants to do. It's such a cliche, but it's true.

I'm frustrated with the choices available to girls. It seems like we've come a long way, but I think we still have so much further to go.


Anonymous said...

I understand what you are trying to say but I really think it is up to US, as parents, to teach our kids that they can do anything they want, not toy companies. My kids (2 boys, 1 girl) have a huge range of toys and they are not off limits to anyone...even if they are more for a boy than a girl or vice versa. My daughter (3) has been dressing up in the spiderman gear for the last week -- complete w/ mask and gloves that make the "web" noise. We led from example -- and just because our girls may or may not have things that are pink and play w/ princesses does not mean they will not be successful as adults, even if they do chose to stay at home. Hey, maybe she will marry a man that wants to be a stay at home dad. Target, Toys R Us and esp the little toy stores like Learning Express have a big selection of toys and just because they group the "dress up" in one section and the hot wheels in another doesn't mean that only boys or girls can pick from those areas. Hey my 9 year old is totally into wrestling now. I'm not quite sure how I feel about it. He knows that it's not real, but he is enjoying himself so I'm going with it. Emma now wants a Jon Cena shirt like her older brothers.....

Anonymous said...

Five or six years ago, on a trip to Toys R Us, I was struck by how divided the store seemed ... pink on one side, and dark, gloomy colors on the other (I even noticed the lighting on the boys side seemed dimmer). But on a trip to the same store recently, I was surprised how the "pink section" seems to have gotten smaller. I was pleased to see, instead, a huge variety of board games, electronics, art supplies, videos and outside toys (bikes, riders, balls, sports equipment, etc.). These days, it seems the Princesses' popularity is waning - only to be replaced by High School Musical (which my girl and boy love). No doubt there'll be something else after that fad dies. Let's face it, there are always going to be popular "girl" characters (princesses, Strawberry Shortcake, Dora) and "boy" characters (Ninja Turtles, Power Rangers) featured in both toys and TV shows. Like I said yesterday, it's up to us parents to give the kids choices and let them decide what/who they want to be. We'll never encourage our little girls to be scientists or surgeons by banning princesses, just as we can't encourage our boys to be nurses or teachers by giving them medical kits or chalkboards. (k)

Anonymous said...

PS - Bravo, Lisa, for starting this interesting discussion! I wish more people would chime in publicly. We're all a friendly group :) (k)

Anonymous said...

And another thing ... yes, my third post - sorry, everyone, that I didn't get all my thoughts together at once!

Anyway, I agree, Lisa, that unfortunately there's no fairy tale about becoming an artist. Or a writer. When I was in sixth grade, I decided I wanted to become a writer. You know what almost every adult in my life told me? "You'll never make much money doing THAT." Some told me I should be a vet because I loved animals, others encourged me to be a geneticist because I liked science. How's that for encouraging a child? My mother, though, told me I could be ANYTHING I wanted, and she'd always stand behind me. I'm glad she said that, because today I am making a good living as the writer I wanted to be. When my kids tell me they want to be a janitor, a secretary, an astronaut, the president, do you know what I'm going to say? "We'll do whatever it takes to make that dream come true for you."

So where do the dreaded princesses fit in to all this? I think they were created, in part (in addition to profit-making fantasies!), to encourage girls to DREAM, to imagine, to not be bound by what society says kids have to be. Agreed, what these perfect princesses stand for is not reality (something we can keep in check by explaining this to our daughters) - but what's wrong with dreaming about living happily ever after? How's that for the optimist's view? (k)

lisa {milkshake} said...

I agree with most of what you're both saying, but still stand my ground!

Galadriel (in the comments in the last post) said this: "giving a child open-ended toys and situations provide for more exciting and imaginative play and better and more successful problem solving confidence."

I think that about sums up my problem with toys that are marketed for just girls or just boys. How can Malayna's dreams grow when she's given a toy that spells everything out for her? I don't have a problem with her playing princess - as long as she invents the "costume" herself. I won't buy her a packaged princess costume. Know what I mean?

ahna said...

Wow. This is a hot topic. I can't believe how stirred up I feel about the whole thing. I will try to make sense. Also, If you haven't seen the new Dove campaign on line, you must check it out. Go to You Tube, and see if you can find it there. It starts with the little red haired girl, and goes on from there...
I have to say that I agree with you. I have 3 girls, and, like you, I think that I know what my options are for toys for kids. I research and choose carefully. Instead of pink tutus and tap shoes, I give my children a box of fabric and let them create their own costumes. I try to give my girls a little bit of everything - not just one type of play thing. However, that's not the point as I see it.
The point is that we are living in a supposedly free thinking, gender equal society where boys and girls can do or be anything that they want. The sad truth is that we are surrounded by this sort of pink crap that just plays to the old stereotype of what a boy and a girl should be. I can give my kids gender neutral, open-ended imaginative toys until they come out their little eyeballs. Then they go to Kindergarten or friends homes or the church nursery and they are surrounded - once again - with pretty pretty princess and the messages of "girls" and "boys."
The reality is that this will follow our daughters though out their entire lives. As a matter of fact, we wouldn't be having this conversation if we, as grown-ups, hadn't felt the crush of trying to find ourselves in this pressure of what society wants us to be as wives, mothers and women.
Whew. That was a lot. I can see why anonymous commented several times. This is a big one.