Oppressive Girl Toys: A Short Analysis of the Discourse (Originally published May, 2011)

I spend a lot of time talking about girls’ toys. I’ve had quite a bit to say about the princesses as role models, toys that involve chores, and toys that seem to be preparing little girls for a life of childrearing and servitude. I’m far from the only one talking about these things. It’s very 101. Today, I thought I’d address the nature of the rebuttals I get on the subject.

Most of the people who want to tell me that I’m wrong about these things being oppressive are moms. Actually, so far, all of them have been moms. Sometimes they want to tell me that they don’t buy dolls/kitchens or they ask their relatives not to buy dolls/kitchens unless and until they ask for them, which they inevitably do. Most commonly, I hear that their boys play with them too. Therefore, it’s okay! Whatever the rebuttal, they’re all moms. I just thought my audience was 100% moms, but as the testosterone rich comments on my Kansas paternity bill post proved, that’s far from the case. So why is it only moms who want to defend the Oppressive Girl Toys? I think the answer is twofold.
First, moms are the only ones who think I’m talking to them. Men haven’t been taught that it is their responsibility to monitor every purchase in the household for total educational value, not to mention political correctness, environmentalism, and overall potential impact on psychological health. Men don’t get together in groups on a regular basis and shake their fingers at each other in debates about their diapers’ biodegradability. They don’t label each other lazy or tell each other they’re giving their kids diabetes when formula or McDonald’s enters the house. They don’t critique each other’s children’s car seats and rate each other by probability that their child will die in that thing. Of course I’m not just talking to moms (today I am but not usually) but I might as well be talking about tampons and diva cups for all the fathers think this applies to them. I don’t care if the father of your children changes exactly 50% of the diapers and wakes up for exactly 50% of the night wakings and gets the children dressed exactly 50% of the time and does exactly 50% of the chores. The simple fact is that he has not internalized even 10% of the responsibility for the outcome of your childrearing venture. This is probably half because his childhood was not spent carrying baby dolls around and trying to one-up his friends on fake parenting and half because everybody in the free world claps a guy on the back just for knowing his children’s birthdays. But I digress.
Second, I get the sense that there’s a bit of defensiveness involved here, as in denial “I played with these things as a kid and I am not oppressed!” and anger “I am not oppressing my daughter! I can’t screen fucking everything for good gender politics!” Well, you’re right, you can’t screen everything for good gender politics, nor should you. Constantly limiting your daughters’ toy selection to politically uncontaminated playthings would take more time than you have, socially cripple your daughter, and probably piss her right off in the process. Like the stigma surrounding formula feeding, this sort of too-high expectation that women and society place on mothers leads to a lot of transparent excuses: the fiction (“I never buy gendered toys”), the fantasy (“my boys play with them equally!”), and the outright false (“these toys do not have a psychological impact on my children”). They’re meaningless excuses and you shouldn’t have to make them. You didn’t start this and you won’t be able to end it single-handedly. As a parent, it’s your job to take care of the kids and raise them as well as you can, not to create a perfect soldier for the impending gender revolution. You haven’t thwarted the feminist movement if your daughter has a Rose Petal Cottage. You don’t have that power. In fact you could go to extremes and refuse to tell anyone your child’s gender and you still won’t gain the power to solve gender inequality. It’s okay. Really.
So, moms, what should you do for your daughters? I don’t know. Maybe there isn’t a lot you can do. Work on liberating yourself instead. She might be the future but you are the present. You exist here and now. You’re the one living with the results of your upbringing. You’re the one who feels like the whole world is attacking you whenever something about children’s toys or nutrition is discussed. You’re the one who has to fight for your children’s father to stop offering formula when you’re crying because your baby wants to breastfeed every fifteen minutes. You’re the one arguing with me on the internet cause I said girls play chores and referenced a toy you bought for your daughter while the father of your children is… well, I don’t know what he’s doing. Not arguing with me, anyway, unless I’ve recently mentioned paternity tests. We talk about these things because it’s important to understand the roots of our problems, not because it’s important for women to be perfect moms. That’s not empowerment, it’s another set of shackles. So: free yourself. You know whatever you have, your daughter will want more.
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