January 26, 2014

Revisiting Girl Toys

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princessbracelets
Putting a dozen princess bracelets on her foot. Because, why not?

It’s easy for someone in my position to have a gripe with ‘Girl Toys’. Computer science (my profession) has made great strides, but still remains male dominated. As such, it sometimes attracts people who think the field should remain so. I have been witness to such sexists remarks. Perhaps some people feel comfortable sharing these beliefs with me because I’m not stereotypically girly, and therefore not one of those girls who doesn’t belong. At least, that’s how I internalize those conversations. I’m not a mall crawler who likes to have her hair done and her nails polished, so I still belong. I want Nicki to belong in my world as well. To love math and science as I do.

Yet even though I’m not stereotypically girly in many respects, I am in others. Yes, I am a data scientist, a cross between a mathematician and statistician who never wears makeup, and am more comfortable sporting free t-shirts acquired from tech conferences than in wearing something ‘nice’. I also played with Barbies as a child, and collected model horses as a child. I prefer science fiction, but have been known to enjoy a romantic comedy. We are allowed to like contradictory things. Humans are complex creatures afterall with multiple facets to their personalities. Little humans are no exception. Just because a girl likes ‘girl toys’ doesn’t mean she can’t also like ‘boy toys’. It doesn’t mean she can’t grow up to be a mathematician.

I hate the notion of dumbed down ‘girl’ versions of otherwise gender neutral toys, but there’s nothing wrong in marketing toys specifically to girls. My goal as a parent is to expose Nicki to as many things as possible, and let her decide what she likes. That includes stereotypical ‘girl’ toys and interests.

That’s easy to say, harder to follow through.

This Christmas Nicki got both a baby doll, and a play kitchen. The play kitchen and doll were ideas that came right from day care. I picked her up a little on the early side one day and found Nicki, and her best friend Kai, playing together with the little wooden kitchen. They were mimicking washing dishes together. Last month she came home with a doll because she could not bear to be parted with it. Both toys were easy to justify, as both are great for creative play and role-playing. She feeds her doll (and other toys) constantly, both with baby bottles and spoons from her kitchen. She’s constantly mixing up something in her big sauce pan. She makes a mean headband soup.

She’s also been turning everything into jewelry: the rings on her stacker, headbands, even my work id lanyard. Anything that fits on her wrists or ankles goes on her wrists or ankles. I’m not sure where she learned to do that. Not from me, I don’t were jewelry other than wedding rings. Not that I can complain too much – her love of jewelry did make the pearl necklace photos that much easier. Unlike the kitchen or the doll it’s hard to come up with a good reason to introduce Nicki to custom jewelry. It’s not a role playing toy. It doesn’t help build her spacial awareness or fine motor control, at least no more than stickers and crayons do. The sole function of jewelry is too look pretty. But I knew she would like it. That should be reason enough.

I still want to discourage the idealization of princesses who wait for princes to come fix their problems, but I should let her enjoy playing princess. I don’t want Nicki to feel limited because of her gender, but I don’t want her to feel like she has to hide it either.

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  1. […] a thing against ‘girl toys’ but as long as they’re not really hurting anything, I hold my tongue. The girls are allowed to have their own interests. They’re allowed to like girlie […]


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