Gender Talk

When you see photos like the ones below of girls talking in a group (just hanging out at a sleepover or at some other gathering), what do you imagine they’re saying to each other? (Okay, yes, I know they’re all dolls of a sort. Just pretend, okay?)

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Raise your hand if you think they’re talking about boys. Or hair and makeup. Or collections of tiny things like Shopkins. Or perhaps you think they’re gossiping about their friends or other people. Now, raise your hand if you think they’re talking about quantum mechanics (“the science of the very small,” according to Wikipedia), earth science, psychology, or what’s trending on the internet. Anybody? Hello?

Now look at the photo below. Think of them as boys having a conversation. (Um the one in purple is Batzarro, who is in Lego DC Comics Super Heroes: Justice League vs. Bizarro League.) What do you think they’re discussing? Sports? Quantum mechanics? Girls? Cars? Videogames? Collections of tiny things like Shopkins?

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Many of us have preconceived ideas about what girls or boys talk about or like. Some of these ideas have to do with how we were socialized, and the expectations with which we grew up. You know the ones: girls like dolls and colors like pink and purple; boys like cars and trains and colors like blue or green. Girls talk about boys and hair at a sleepover. If a kid stepped out of the “bubble,” he or she was “corrected,” sometimes by other kids.

Think times have changed, now that we’re so “enlightened” about preconceived gender issues? Think again. A little boy I know used to love the color purple until he was told by another kid that purple is a “girl” color.

If we have kids, we want them to be all that they can be. But sometimes what we think someone else “should” like or be like has more to do with our own frustrated hopes than that person’s natural bent.

I read an article a few weeks ago (wish I could find it again) where a father mentioned the Girl Toy of the Year and the Boy Toy of the Year for 2015. The Girl Toy of the Year was the Shopkins Small Mart Playset (by Moose Toys). The Boy Toy of the Year was the Zoomer Dino (by Spin Master). There was a general Toy of the Year too. But in the article I read, the father complained about the girl toy and how it lacked action. Never mind the fact that a girl moving a doll around the market shows action and especially imagination. I can’t recall if this father had daughters or not. If he did, more than likely they should not expect to get this Small Mart Playset. (By the way, I’ve seen kids play with remote-controlled toys. They grew bored with them fairly quickly.)

Zoomer-Interactive-Dino-Boomer-1024x1024  Shopkins-Small-Mart-Playset

I wonder if this dad would be appalled if he saw some little boys I know happily playing in the giant toy kitchen set up in their home. They know their way around the kitchen, because their dad is an awesome cook who probably could open his own restaurant.

At this same house, I watched the kids at a birthday party recently. Now in this family, there are three kids: a girl and two boys (same as my family). The family will soon grow with the addition of a baby girl this summer (also the same as my family, though my sister didn’t live).

It’s fascinating to me to see to what toys and games children naturally gravitate. Though lightsabers and Nerf guns abounded in this house for anyone to use, the girls at the party chose to play quietly in a bedroom away from the raucous lightsaber/Nerf gun battle in which the boys participated. Every once in awhile, the girls would emerge from the room with a doll or doll blanket. (All of these girls were under the age of eight.) But they refused to join the battle.

lightsaber

Yet when I babysat the children of the host family, all of the kids participated in a game I introduced to them that I used to play with my brothers. We called it Houseboat. The couch was the houseboat. The floor represented the shark-infested waters. The object was to dive for pearls or other treasure and make it back onto the houseboat without being attacked by sharks. The lookout (usually me) would call out, “Sharks!” Everyone would have to get out of the “water” and back to the houseboat. There were always some casualties. 🙂

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It’s fun to watch kids be kids whether they pick up a doll or a lightsaber. (And I’ve picked up both.) They can be all they can be as long as they know there is no shame in what they choose.

By the way, a girl at church who has been the beneficiary of some of my Shopkins mentioned that her brother wanted some of them too. Just sayin’.

Shopkins Small Mart Playset image from crossencreations.com. Zoomer Dino from norcalcoupongal.com. Shark from download32.com. Lightsaber from unity-technology.com. Other photos by L. Marie.

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59 thoughts on “Gender Talk

  1. When we watched Jaws, I would shout “Get your feet outta the water!” and the kids would immediately snatch them up onto the couch 🙂

    Talking about girls speaking about science made me think of the book I’m reading at the moment-a biography of Hedy Lamarr. This actress from the Golden Age of Hollywood was once titled The Most Beautiful Woman In Film. But she was also an inventor, helping to develop some kind of guidance system in torpedoes during the war, work that is still evident in the technology of our Wifi and our mobile phones. (Can’t be too specific-I haven’t got to that part yet!) Brains and beauty. Remember her next time you text somebody 🙂

    • Wow! I didn’t know that about her! So glad you mentioned that, Andy. I’d like to read that biography of her.
      Ha ha! What a fun game! I’ll have to play that variation with the kids. 🙂

  2. “It’s fun to watch kids be kids whether they pick up a doll or a lightsaber. (And I’ve picked up both.) They can be all they can be as long as they know there is no shame in what they choose.”

    Agreed, but isn’t it more interesting that without socialization boys gravitate towards more boisterous violent games and girls to more sedate ones? Bullet proof vest is close if needed 🙂

  3. I think it’s now much worse now with extremists trying to tell us what choices we SHOULD be making regarding gender and everything else for our children. As long as a child is loved and cherished what does it matter how they play or WHAT they play with. My kids were into drawing and making stuff with us – except my son who ran around like a bull in a China shop with a bucket on his head. We neither encouraged or discouraged any ‘bent’ we saw, except maybe the creative ones (you see us parents just can’t leave them kids alone).
    My eldest daughter now runs a record label and is a DJ. My middle daughter is a physicist and my son is into gaming in a massive way (so I guess he’s still charging around, just on line.).
    If a girl likes pink and is into dolls, so what? If a boy is into dolls and likes pink,so what? Just love them unconditionally and you will be loved back in the same way.What’s more important than that?

    • Very wise, John. I know you cherish your children, which is awesome. So none of them writes you like do? Is your son a pro gamer? I know a kid who wants to turn pro. I’m not sure how one goes about doing that.

  4. I’ve managed to dodge this topic in real life a lot. It’s always confusing because it feels like anyone arguing for or against what a child should like is ignoring free will. That and marketing only works if you have a central demographic. Otherwise it’ll look like that freakish Mountain Dew Super Bowl commercial. The thing is that some of these gender choices happen even without the parent getting involved. We never pushed my son to like trains. Just happened that he saw one and fell in love with them. Recently him and a friend’s daughter played restaurant with his toy microwave. One key point is that a child gets to be a child. I have met many parents that try to discourage imagination play and art unless they can fit a more ‘practical career path’ into the activity. This seems to be directed a lot at boys because, as one person told me, ‘they need more focus and discipline’. So it does feel like both genders are getting twisted and attacked by broad generalizations and an inability to remember what it was like to be kid.

    Oh, and my son’s favorite colors are yellow and pink. That second color drives my wife nuts because she hates pink.

    • I so agree, Charles. A child gets to be a child. And you’re right–a lot of choices happen without a parent. At the party, it was interesting watching what toy each guest child would pick up when he walked in the house. None of the parents made suggestions. They were too busy talking. So I would notice when the dinosaur-obsessed little boy would grab a dinosaur or a car.

      I’ve also seen the sad results of kids being pushed early on toward a career path. Some of this comes from other adults who are pushing their kids toward trendy preschools who in turn make demands on what a child “needs” to know by an early age. The struggle is real.

      • I think some parents do it out of regret. They chose a path that doesn’t make them happy or financially stable, so they make sure the kid doesn’t even think of following it. For example, a parent tries to become an actor and fails. Their child ends up being forbidden from trying out for plays or even singing. Suddenly forgetting the name of this. Basically, putting your baggage on someone else and thinking it’s helping.

      • Sad but true. Fear is a motivator for some. They think they can spare their children a life of pain. But pushing someone out of a regret for what happened in the past is almost a guarantee that a child will endure a life of pain.

      • True. So much of life and growth involves struggle. We can’t shield kids from that, no matter how well meaning we are.

  5. Great post, Linda! I think Charles has nailed it: “One key point is that a child gets to be a child.” I’ve heard of some parents being dismayed if their children choose gender-specific toys, but kids change their minds about what they like, don’t they? Isn’t that part of growing up? I remember vividly playing with dolls and just as vividly wanting nothing to do with them, instead preferring to race around on my bicycle. What creeps me out is when adults impose what they think is proper on their children, like making little girls wear pink all the time (factoid: I hated pink when I was growing up; I much preferred blue). You sound like a fun adult to be around, stoking kids’ imaginations, but I know too many parents who would be appalled at their children (or any child for that matter) jumping on and off their couch.
    Recently we watched Watching Neverland starring Johnny Depp and Kate Winslet. (Talk about a tear-jerker!) I don’t know how “factual” the movie was but the most entertaining aspect was the use of imagination to create play. If you haven’t seen the movie, you might give it a go, but have a box of tissues near by 😉

    • I saw that movie, Marie. It was beautifully done. I’m not sure how factual it is either. But it makes you appreciate Barrie’s creation of Peter Pan!

      I’m not a fan of pink either. And I also raced around on my bike too. I felt sorry for a girl on my block who was not allowed to wear pants and couldn’t climb trees. She had to be a proper young lady. I was always skinning my knee or climbing someone’s fence. And I jumped off couches and beds alike!

      • What’s funny to me is several years ago, about the time I turned 50, I fell in love with pink! I wanted everything to be pink, including my bedroom walls (but it’s a pale pink). My zest for pink has tempered of late but I still gravitate toward that color. Blue not so much. Crazy 😉

      • By the way, I received The Ordinary Princess! What a lovely book 🙂 I started reading it last night. Thanks again, Linda!

      • Just finished it today. What a delightful book! I love Kaye’s grown-up humor (all the bureaucracy with hiring a dragon) … it reminds me of Terry Pratchett (my limited knowledge of his writing anyway). This is definitely a story I’ll read more than once.

      • Yay!!! So glad you enjoyed it, Marie. I hope you’ll read more Terry Pratchett. He’s one of my favorite authors. I miss him. I’m glad I still have so many of his books.

  6. When I was little, I played with Barbies and other dolls, but my preference was always trucks, cars, smash-up derby…the boy stuff. For my 8th birthday, I asked for an electric race track set, my parents never thought anything about it. One of the girls from the neighborhood, who came to my party, asked me, “Why would you want that…it’s for boys.”

    • I wanted one too, Jill. My brothers got the race track. I played with that too. 🙂
      There’s a critic at every party! I’m glad your parents gave you that present, regardless of what that girl thought.

  7. Super post!
    I grew up in a time when girls mostly played with dolls and played house or school, and boys had trucks and bats and balls. When our girls came along, we just let them be who they wanted to be. Our younger daughter loved baseball and basketball and requested more Match Box Cars one year for Christmas. I remember an aunt saying “are you really going to give her cars?”. Yep! She still has them, along with her baseball card collection. Her daughter plays with Thomas the train and makes rather intricate drawings of bridges she wants to construct (she’s 6) and her little brother helps her. Then, they play with her American Girl dolls. I love it. Not to leave our older daughter out, she recently pulled out her telescope, which was a Christmas gift of her youth, for some celestial gazing and hopes to fly with the Blue Angels some time.
    I love your game of “sharks” and will have to play it with the grands. It reminds me a little of Red Light, Green Light. Fun post,

    • Awww. That’s great, Penny. I wouldn’t be surprised if your granddaughter became an engineer someday–designing real bridges. I’m glad your granddaughter and grandson play so well together.

      And good for you for giving your daughter what she wanted! I had some Matchbox cars along with Barbies. I often played “car wash.” I soooo wanted a train set when I was a kid. I also wanted a telescope. One of these days, I’ll have to get myself both.

      We used to play Red Light, Green Light! Loved that game!

  8. I was only 11 months apart in age from my brother, so we were best buds. Always played together and merged our toys into games that were less gender-specific than kids of the same gender may play. I suspect that’s why I’ve never much been into typically “girl” things. No glittery pink school supplies for me!

    • I know what you mean! I wonder if I would have had more girly things had my sister lived. But my best friend next door wasn’t much of a girly girl either. We climbed trees, hunted for insects, and wrote stories. Every once in a while I don’t mind something glittery. I have a pair of Chucks with glittery silver laces. 😀

  9. We had lots of “gender neutral” fun with Lincoln Logs, Legos, Erector Sets, Board Games, Card Games, Frisbee, Catch, Basketball, etc.

    Kids are often steered into “ticky tacky gender specific boxes” by parents, peers, schools, and churches. Adult prejudices cause them to push kids in whatever direction they are likely to receive “external approval” for “conforming to the norm” . . . like SHEEP!

    Baaaaa . . . .

    I have never been interested in “girl talk” . . . I prefer talking about ideas.

    • Sad but true, Nancy.
      We also had erector sets, Lincoln Logs, card games, etc. We didn’t have any “girl” LEGOs. There were just LEGO bricks. I grew up appreciating science fiction and fantasy books, comic books etc., genres I later learned were male dominated. But I shrugged that off, since I’d planned to write fantasy and science fiction anyway regardless of my sex.
      I also love to talk about ideas. 🙂

  10. My brother and I played with each other all the time as kids simply because we were a few years younger than our sisters. Looking back, I reckon I got pretty lucky with my parents for that generation – they didn’t much care whether I played with dolls or was out playing football with my brother. In fact, my dad taught me to box! And to do basic DIY. My mum tried to teach me to do housework, but somehow that was less successful… 😉

    • Ha ha! I’m not very good at housework either! But I had to do it. And I was out playing basketball and baseball though I can’t say my mom was happy about that. My older brother taught me to box. 😀 Those lessons came in handy in seventh grade.

  11. Since my triplets are two girls and a boy, I had a social experiment in my house related to gender and toys. The result: all the kids played with everything until they were in kindergarten when, by some unspoken rule, boys gravitated to blocks and girls to the housekeeping corner.

    • Isn’t that amazing? I’ve also seen that transition period, especially when kids start to attend school–whether preschool or kindergarten. Other kids become such a part of their day-to-day existence. And that means hearing the opinions of other kids.

      • Mostly make-believe role-play type games, where they each have a toy or four and they play different characters. (The toys may be dolls or vehicles. Their combined collection of matchbox vehicles is over 300 strong.) They do a lot of damsel in distress with a twist. The damsel getting mad enough to go crazy or having a secret weapon or an unusual champion. (Sometimes the damsel is a car. This started BEFORE they saw the movie Cars, which we just debuted for them last weekend.) And dinosaurs &/or dragons. Lots and lots of reptilian monsters. There is always a monster if my son is playing. Always. Usually of the scaly sort. Whether it’s a good one or a bad one varies and sometimes it’s just a cameo, but there will always be a monster and it will probably be a T. Rex or dragon.

      • Love their play! Love the damsel in distress with a twist, ReGi. Sounds like fun! Your kids have a wonderful imagination, which of course they get from you.

        What did they think of Cars? Did they see the sequel?

      • 🙂 I like their imaginations, too.

        I think Cars was a little bit of a let down. My son loves the look of the vehicles and has really liked Lightning McQueen especially for a while now. I think he was disappointed there were fewer heroics in the movie than there are in his games. It didn’t REALLY catch him until the end, when McQueen helps The King. No sequel yet. He might like that one more since it has more of the daring-do and good vs evil going on.

  12. Baby bro and I used to play a version of your ‘Houseboat’….only it was in **his** bedroom using his bed – I didn’t want to ruin **my** bed…big sister privileges you know? 😀

    We called it “Pirate Island” where his bed was the island (or ‘ghool’, remember that name?) and everything surrounding it was pirate ship invested waters…complete with the fighting action, etc. You were allowed to throw pillows on the ‘waters’ as additional safe havens…

    Great post!!!!!

    • Thanks, Laura! Pirate Island sounds fun. Did you guys like Peter Pan also? I love the fact that you threw pillows in the water. Were they floatation devices or safe islands?

      We played Houseboat in my brothers’ room sometimes too. They had bunk beds, which were very handy for jumping off into the “water.”

  13. I hadn’t really paid much attention to this, but I’ll be on the lookout. I agree, It’s fascinating to see to what toys and games children naturally gravitate.

  14. A lot of people were outraged when LEGO launched the Friends series with simpler constructions and figures more like Polly Pocket than the typical blocky minifigs. I thought Friends would flop like Belleville, but apparently it didn’t. Some of the constructions and accessories are well-designed and adaptable to other original buildings (like the interior of my radio station), and the hair can be moved to other heads for more variation of hairstyles. And despite the popularity of Friends, I’m glad to see pressure on LEGO to release the Research Institute of women scientists, and the fact that girls participate in general building and robotics.

  15. Hard for me to risk a comment about this topic . I know child things and behavior have changed a lot when I watch my grandchildren playing with their tecnhnological toys . But what is remaining is most of the girl love romantism even if some of them are dreadfiul warriors . They are also courageous at work more than the boys in general .
    In friendshp
    Michel

  16. Since the birth of my 7-yr.-old grandson, he has been drawn to everything “boy.” He was mad about cars and trucks, now Lego and sports, no pink or purple anywhere. He’s also clued into all the expectations for boys. It’s hard to escape, the way toys and everything else are marketed.

    My 21-yr.-old granddaughter, on the other hand, is a physical risk taker and a math whiz who is studying Engineering. And she usually wins at lazer tag.

    • Lazer tag is awesome!
      Yes, it’s hard to escape the segmentation of toys. As I walk past the aisles of the toy department at a department store, I can’t help noticing the color switches. Red, blue, green, and black in the “boy toy” aisles. Pink and purple in the “girl toy” aisles. It’s very easy to spot the Barbie aisle from afar!

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