Monday, January 4, 2010

Gendered Toys and Feminist Children Books

Our stereotypical ideas about what a boy should do or how a girl should act is something I think about quite a lot, especially now that my son is getting older. I see him obsessed with cars anything on wheels, guns, and tools and I can’t help but wonder if I’m giving him a good enough balance. Yes he has a few My Little Ponies, but is it enough? What is the next step I should take?

The whole gender stereotype issue has been particularly on my mind after seeing this "Girl Gourmet Cake Bakery Set" toy in Walmart:

Obviously I don't see anything wrong with young girls liking to bake, but I don't understand why it has to be so geared towards girls. I was thinking about getting this for my son (since he likes to be in the kitchen when I cook but there isn't enough room with him underfoot) and it just annoyed me. There's even a picture of Duff on the front proving that baking isn't something only girls do.

The commercial is even worse:

Websites like Sociological Images often talk about the extreme gender division among boy and girl toys, but few offer up any solutions for parents in regards to the onslaught of pink and blue.

So, with all that in mind, I was super intrigued by the article "Feminist books for five-year-olds" over at the Gaurdian. Viv Groskop, the author, wanted to read her children books with more "feminist" ideals after she noticed how stereotypically gendered they were becoming. (Though the the term "feminist" is being used here essentially as a euphemism for anything different from the standard gender roles we teach our children.) These are my favorite book reviews out of the bunch (her kid's opinions are funny):

Girls Are Not Chicks By Jacinta Bunnell and Julie Novak:

Some of the pictures and captions in this colouring book are funny. A woman riding a tractor: "Who says girls don't like to play in the dirt?" Two ballerinas dancing: "No one wants to fight the patriarchy alone. Make friends." But I'm not sure whether the messages are really for the amusement of children, or adults. One caption reads: "When she stopped chasing the dangling carrot of conventional femininity, she was finally able to savour being a woman." Try explaining that to a three-year-old.

Will: "This book is for girls."

Vera: (scribbles intently)

Princess Smartypants By Babette Cole:

A riotously subversive read. "Princess Smartypants did not want to get married. She enjoyed being a Ms." Princess Smartypants keeps giant slugs as pets and challenges her geeky prince suitors to roller-disco marathons. When one of them finally wins her over, she kisses him, intentionally turning him into a toad. "When the other princes heard what had happened to Prince Swashbuckle, none of them wanted to marry Smartypants. So she lived happily ever after." Excellent. Although, interestingly, the children seriously struggled with the idea that anyone might not want to get married.

Will: "I liked it when the prince turned into a toad. It will be my most favourite story ever."

Vera: "I want Smartypants! I want Smartypants!"

The Pirate Girl By Cornelia Funke:

Molly is in her boat, sailing off on holiday to her granny's, when she is kidnapped by Captain Firebeard and his vicious band of pirates. But they chose the wrong girl. Molly's mother is Barbarous Bertha and when she comes to rescue her daughter she brings her own ferocious crew. Brilliant – although I worried slightly about the male pirates. At the end they are forced to polish Barbarous Bertha's boots 14 times a week. Punishing the oppressor is not true feminism, it's just role reversal. Still, this was the most successful read and I would recommend it to anyone.

Will: "This was even better than Princess Smartypants. It's the best story in the whole world. Write this: I really like boats."

Vera: "My favourite [character] is Molly. And her mum."

I think the idea all around can't hurt though I do question the effectiveness of something like this. Either way it's always nice to expose children to different perspectives.


  1. I could not believe this came out in 2007:

    "I love when my laundry gets so clean, taking care of my home is my dream, dream, dream."

    Or this one:

    "Now there's a place where her dreams have room to grow."

    What dreams, might you ask? Cooking, taking care of her baby, decorating, and doing laundry! Duh!

  2. I know, it’s insane. There’s nothing wrong with kids wanting to play house, but the marketing kills me.


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