In my WTF Do I Do post, I briefly mentioned the imposition of gender onto infants and children through gender-typed clothing and toys. In continuing my discussion of women and girls, I would like to elaborate a bit more on that topic.
Imagine a typical little girl's room. Chances are, the image that comes to mind looks something like this:
In addition to the god-awful amount of pink, what else do you see? Toy baby doll with stroller and swing. Lots of Disney princesses.
How about this one:
The first thing I want you to notice about this image is the CRIB. Yes, this room is for a baby girl. And yet.....we have another baby doll set up with accessories, some fancy dress up clothes, and again - LOTS of pink.
Sure, it's all very cute. I love pink on little girls as much as the next person. But what does this all MEAN?
Let's start with the baby dolls. What is the purpose of a baby doll? Little girls basically learn to be moms to their plastic babies. It is teaching them caretaking skills. Some might argue that it's making them learn caretaking skills.
Think about it. Picture 2 shows a baby's room. That child has already been given a baby doll to play with, long before she even learns what it is or whether it's something she might want to play with. Most of us probably had some sort of house-playing toys when we were little as well. I know I had the big plastic kitchen complete with dishes and fake food.
But you know what else is out there for little girls' toys?
This image used to be much bigger, but it seems the pink toy washer/dryer has been removed from the market since I first wrote this post, and none of the links are valid anymore. Hmm...
Yup. A toy washer and dryer set and a toy vacuum.
I'll grant you that I am guilty of having desperately wanted a Dyson for Christmas. (And got it.) But a little girl wanting a toy vacuum cleaner? Or washer and dryer? Really??? What the hell is fun about pushing a plastic vacuum around?
Don't get me wrong. If a little girl WANTS these things, I have no problem with that. But the ages of the children these toys are appropriate for suggest that they are most likely being given as gifts.
Social learning theory suggests that the reason little girls play with toys like these are because they see their mother using the grownup versions. If they identify themselves with their mother (as they should identify with the same-gender parent), and their mother does the majority of the household duties, then little girls view these things as gender-appropriate toys. They are a means to "be like mom."
I would like to see toy preferences in children where their parents' gender roles in the household are switched. If mom does all the fixing, will little Sarah ask for a pipe wrench for her birthday?
The point here, though, is that little girls learn the skills of caring for others and taking care of a household from a very, very, almost obscenely early age. This becomes cemented in their identity as women. There are very few women in this world who were never given a toy doll to play with as a child. And chances are that if, as a little girl, you didn't own Barbies - you were ostracized to some extent by your peers. In my childhood, whoever had the most Barbies and various other Barbie shit was always the most popular girl in the neighborhood. It was never me. :(
I did have this though. Albeit without the remote control.