I didn’t know if the fast food employee could see me rolling my eyes over their video monitors, but I was cringing at their choice of words.
“What are the toys right now?” I asked the drive-thru window speaker, as the kids watched intently from their car-seats.
“Uh …” There was a rummaging sound over the loudspeaker, then the employee announced it was “just a mix” of toys from previous promotions because they ran out of plastic Minions.
“OK. Well, one boy and one girl, I guess,” I told her, and pulled ahead to pick up our order. The yummy hot french fries calmed me down, of course, but I was still annoyed.
The cashier was making me look like a liar.
Just the day before, I’d stood in the aisle of the Toys ‘R’ Us and told our kids firmly that “there is no such thing as a ‘boy toy’ or a ‘girl toy.’ As we’d wandered down a main aisle, our five-year-old son kept tugging us over to the left — where there were aisles of remote-control firetrucks and Transformers — and our three-year-old daughter kept pulling to the right — where there were aisles of Barbies and Frozen dolls.
I let one of them choose an aisle for us to browse, and then I’d let the other pick the next aisle, and we were weaving back and forth between a very distinctive “boy side” and a “girl side.” I’d hoped they wouldn’t notice, but our son sighed dramatically at one point and said “OK, we can go to the girls’ toys now.”
Oh no. Not on my watch.
I’m a mostly laid-back parent these days, but nothing makes me twitch like someone — a child or an adult — talking about you can or cannot do because you’re a boy or a girl. You should have seen the look of horror on my face when I volunteered at my son’s preschool and a little boy said the girls couldn’t play spies, and that only girls could play with dolls.
I may have grown up obsessed with Barbies (still am), but I also owned a Transformer and action figures and a stuffed Hulk Hogan. I was determined that our kids would not be discouraged from playing with anything (well, except the garbage and computer cords).
When our son was 10 or 11 months old, we bought him his first baby doll and it’s still a special member of our family. His most prized Christmas gift last year was a set with Barbie, Skipper, Stacie and Chelsea with four horses, and our daughter received a firefighter costume this past Christmas. Both kids share sets of Ninja Turtles and My Little Ponies, as well as a massive LEGO collection.
The LEGO has caused problems at first, though. Our kids love watching “LEGO Friends” on Netflix, which is about five best (girl) friends and their pets in Heartlake City. The girl-focused brand includes cutesy pastel-coloured LEGO sets, and our daughter received several sets for Christmas.
When our son made a comment about it being “girl LEGO,” I immediately shut that down. LEGO is LEGO! LEGO is for everyone! It doesn’t matter if it’s pink and purple or red and blue.
I mixed every purple and pink brick into the LEGO bin, declared all of the LEGO belonged to everybody, and no one said anything else about it. But he was right — the new LEGO had been completely packaged as something “just for girls.” Something different than the “regular” LEGO. In some stores, it was even stocked in separate aisles labeled “Girls’ building sets.”
Luckily, I’m not the only parent who feels strongly about this. Just last week, Target made headlines for changing the way they organize their toys and DVDs with “girl” and “boy” labels. I hope they also shake up the content of each aisle, so they’re no longer pairing dolls with strollers, and action figures with superhero costumes.
As much as I’d like to see major changes in the toy industry, I think it’s going to be a long time before we see the smiling face of a little boy on the box of a jewellery-making kit (my son loves making jewellery) or a grinning little girl on a package of a Shellraiser (my daughter loves playing Ninja Turtles).
I suspect this boy toy/girl toy perception is only going to get worse after our five-year-old starts school in a few weeks, and he’s spending recess and lunch with kids who will put ideas in his head about what he should and shouldn’t play “as a boy.” Will he still sleep with his two baby dolls and lovingly tuck them in? Will he still want to play My Little Pony with his sister?