I will buy my girls whatever the f*** I want and I won’t feel like an arsehole about it, alriiiight?

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So, in the latest edition of How-You’re-Going-to-Fuck-Up-Your-Kids Weekly it seems gender-neutral toys are all the rage.

Thanks to that momentarily awesome (now reviled)  GoldieBlox marketing video I’ve been reading article, after article, after article about gender-neutral toys.

They’ve become a thing. Much like lotus births. Or premastication. Or paleo baby foods.

And I get it, I honestly do. As someone who bought their two-year-old nephew a baby doll for his second birthday and their daughter a tool kit for her second Christmas – I’m all for it.

Unlike the potentially dangerous practice of leaving a rotting placenta attached to your newborn baby, the reasoning for buying gender-neutral toys is pretty sound. We need to show our children they can be anything they want to be, without stale notions of propriety or supposed biological influences holding them back.

No argument there.

And yet this trend is shitting me on a number of levels.

Firstly why, more often than not, are we having this conversation in relation to girls only? 

No pink or purple! No Barbies! No dolls! No Disney princesses! No kitchens! No nail polishes! No prams! …

The list of exclusions is long. Whole colours have been abolished. Anti-girl toy movements have been set up to inform us Disney princesses are about as healthy as crack and can consume your child. If you buy these things, you are doing the WRONG THING by your child. Ignore the list and you’ll be raising depressed, hyper-sexualised, stupid, home-making damsels who will undoubtedly spend the rest of their lives waiting for a handsome prince to sweep them off their feet AND do their algebra homework.

And Boys? Oh yeah, give them a doll once in a while blah blah blah, something something, make them more nurturing.

We don’t fret that trucks, superheroes, weapons, Ninja Turtles, pirates and the rest will play into the existing problematic paradigms of masculinity. We don’t hound people for buying them toys that are blue or red, We don’t strip them of their “boy” toys because they might send them the wrong message. Who cares if we’re raising boys who are afraid to cry? Who are afraid of being weak? Who think they have to be strong, fearless saviours at all costs?

We’re being told to give boys “boys” and “girls” toys and yet girls are supposed to be stripped of virtually all things “girly” and pushed into using gender-neutral or “boy” toys.

And now we come to the second thing that shits me about this recent push for gender-neutral toys:

Somehow, amongst the whole buying-boys-toys-for-girls-and-girls-toys-for-boys “gender-neutral” discussion, we sort of forgot we were buying toys FOR INDIVIDUAL CHILDREN. You know, individual children with individual tastes who – despite their gender – might want a truck, a doll or building blocks.

I’ll admit I take issue with the lack of mathematical or scientific problem-solving-based toys marketed to girls. The GoldieBlox phenomenon is proof of that disappointing fact. And it’s obvious the respective “boys” and “girls” sections in toy stores are a joke. Yes – there is undoubtedly room for improvement and a need for diversity – but guess what? Last time I checked, parents weren’t mindless idiots.

If your daughter wants a truck, there’s nothing stopping you from waltzing over to the “boys” section and grabbing one – which is precisely what I did last week (NOT because I’d read some articles about princesses and dollies being evil, but because my 10-month-old showed an interest in trucks).

And when my eldest daughter insisted Santa bring her some Little Mermaid-themed duplo for Christmas, nothing stopped me from waltzing over and buying that from the ridiculously pink “girls” section, either.

Why? As child psychologist and parenting expert Dr Lawrence Balter told a Huffington Post blogger earlier this year: “More important than the toys your kid plays with are the things you do to create a narrative that influences your child’s sense of self identity.”

Shock. Horror. Children take cues from their parents and family environments.

It turns out WE CAN BUY A VARIETY OF TOYS AND STILL BE KICK-ARSE PARENTS!

So I’ll continue to buy my girls princess things, and Barbie things, and trucks, and tools and everything in between. And they’ll continue seeing mummy and daddy doing the renovations, mummy and daddy doing the washing. Mummy on the whipper-snipper. Daddy behind a vacuum.

As Paige Lucas-Stannard writes in her book Gender Neutral Parenting: Raising kids with the freedom to be themselves:

“Since GNP is about gender diversity I’m not in favour of banning things from our kidsPrincess-ness is a legitimate gender expression and I wouldn’t want my daughter (or sons) to feel ashamed for liking what they like.”

Instead it can be used as an “opportunity to talk about what it means and how it affects our culture”.

What are your thoughts? Have you ever bought your child gender-neutral gifts? Have you banned certain toys in your household? Please feel free to leave your comments below.

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Comments

  1. I’ve no issues with “boy” and “girl” toys, my daughter got both a fairy outfits and pretend tool bench kit for her birthday, she asked for both. The only issue I have with barbie is how unrealistic her proportions are, Nickolay Lamm represented this well with his barbie artwork created to look like the average 19 year old girl. I wonder if they’d sell?

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    • Hey Sal, thanks for that tip. For anyone interested seeing Nickolay Lamm’s average Barbie, click here: http://nickolaylamm.com/art-for-clients/what-would-barbie-look-like-as-an-average-woman/
      I absolutely agree with your criticism of barbie’s proportions – I much prefer Nickolay’s version – and there are plenty of things I disagree with when it comes to Disney princesses too.
      Most of my frustration comes from the fact that the conversation isn’t about raising well-adjusted children by giving them access to a variety of toys (like you have done), it’s about excluding the so-called “bad” toys in favour of “good” ones. And the majority of that censorship is aimed at girls, as though they need protection from the big bad world of barbies and princesses. Can’t we give them some credit by allowing them to have some of these toys and having intelligent conversations about their drawbacks?

      Would you be comfortable buying a Barbie for your daughter if she asked you for one?

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  2. I enjoyed this thoughtful reaction to all the Goldie Blox hoopla. You make a good point that too much “girly” stuff is considered negative for girls…but why is this never an issue with “boyish” toys (for boys or girls)? It’s almost like people are being anti-feminist without realizing it. How did we get to the point where pink is more disparaged than toy weapons?

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    • Thanks Julia, I’m glad I’m not the only one who noticed. I’m sure most of us agree with the sentiment but why are we approaching it with such an emphasis on girls? It tends to assume there’s no inherent disadvantage to boys playing with “boy” toys while the opposite is true for girls.

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