There’s been a ton of upset recently over “girl toys” and girl-focused marketing. From the little girl on youtube who sprouts suspiciously adult rhetoric about companies “tricking” girls into buying pink to the new Lego Friends, which are slimmer, taller, curvier Lego figures designed to be more relatable. Now Disney announces a chibi, sparkly princess, and all hell is breaking loose. The basic argument I’m hearing against pink, princesses, and curvy legos, is that it’s basically sexist and damaging to women to assume that little girls like pink and dolls and princesses. But to me, that sounds like the little girl version of “you can be anything you want to be except a stay-at-home mom.”
Here’s the thing. I’m a 23 year old woman. When I was little, I was equal parts tomboy and princess. My favorite things were science experiments, Polly Pocket, fishing, tutus, camping, and any kind of arts and crafts. I loved paper dolls, porcelain dolls, American Girl dolls, and Barbies. I loved sports, robotics, and rock climbing. I’ve always had more boy friends than girl friends. When I was five or six the boy next door was playing with my Polly Pocket set, and I asked my mom why he was playing with a “girl” toy. She pointed out that when I played with it, I was having conversations between the dolls, but when Andrew played with it, he was having fun figuring out how all the little mechanisms work, and trying to understand it. She said it didn’t matter whether it was a girl toy or a boy toy, because we both found it interesting for our own reasons.
My problem as a kid, and continuing into adulthood, is not that toymakers and film studios create princesses and pink stuff for girls. My problem is that there’s a stigma against girls who like girl stuff. Dozens of comments on blogs criticizing “girly” toys stated that “cool” girls played with Legos and transformers. “Cool” girls kick ass at video games. “Cool” girls are boys with tits.
I can easily keep up with my male friends in most of their interests. I play Battlefield 3, Skyrim, and the Arkham games. I participate in co-ed combat sports skillfully enough to get respect from my male peers. I work in a male-dominated field. I watch Top Gear. My bathroom reading alternates between Playboy (no seriously, the articles are great), Game Informer, and Batman comics.
And none of that saves me from the flack I get when I tell people I love pink, cooking, and sewing. It’s taken me a long time, as an adult, to grow into my confidence enough to admit that I’m into “girl stuff.” My bros won’t understand that the joy of sneaking up behind an enemy and stealing his dog tags is almost as great as walking out of the salon feeling like a million bucks. I can already hear the comments from some female readers who lost respect for me in the last sentence.
So let’s examine this.
A boy who plays with boy stuff is a red-blooded American male, and that’s ok
A boy who plays with girl stuff is strong and independent, with his own unique style, and that’s ok.
A girl who plays with boy stuff is cool and interesting, and that’s ok
A girl who plays with girls stuff is… girly.
And that’s not ok?
The National Institute for Play identifies no less than seven different types of play. While our societal values teach that males and females are equal, we are not the same. Boys and girls learn differently. They grow at different rates, physically and neurologically. Even in environments which don’t push a “girl” style of play and a “boy” style, boys are more likely to play competitively and girls are more likely to play cooperatively. Boys are more likely to be interested in mechanical concepts, and girls are more likely to be interested in social concepts. Rather than accusing toy companies of supporting gender stereotypes, why don’t we celebrate that we’ve got toys that appeal to all kinds of different play styles, and support girls and boys equally no matter what play style (and color scheme) appeals most to them?