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March 19, 2009

Boy Toys?

Illina I am the only woman in a house full of dirt and noise. We don't have tea parties or wile away the hours quietly coloring. There's not a Disney princess to be found here. Once in a while we make construction paper party hats and have a birthday party for Teddy. We do our share of art projects; my table bears the marks of glitter glue and stickers and paint and markers that weren't washable after all. We concoct new stews and fancy meals in the toy kitchen. I have a borderline unhealthy affinity for play food. Seriously, have you seen the fantastic toy sushi? And don't think that I don't totally hog the toy grocery cart. But I digress...

Lately I have been having trouble finding appropriate toys for my boys. I'm a firm believer in the power of play. Sure, not everything must be educational and erudite in nature. There's something to be said for just a good old fashioned knee slapping laughing good time with some Tupperware and wooden spoons. My sons had more fun with the ginormous cardboard box that the oversize bean bag came in than the bean bag itself. That box was a spaceship, gnome house, race car, sail boat, train car, animal shelter, treasure box, and umpteen other things before it collapsed on itself. That box was Imagination captured, yet not contained.

The toy aisles at big box retailers have proven to be a resounding disappointment. I'm not talking about the likes of the marvelous Tookie's Toys here. I mean the Targets and their ilk. No disrespect to Target. You know how much I love the bull's eye. But if you wander the toy section you will see a clear gender delineation. The kitchen stuff is all pink and ruffly. Even presumably unisex things such as instruments and hand held games scream with cotton candy pink and rugged camouflage. The toys geared toward boys are so jacked up with testosterone that I find myself puffing out my chest in a show of manliness. My sons just might grow hair on their soft little bottoms by just being among all that testosterone. Everything is chock full of flames and neon and muscles and growls and fists and lasers and grime and snarls. Every action figure bears a grizzly grin or gritted teeth. Even the Legos, perhaps my favorite thing besides toy food, has disappointed me the most. Must every kit be movie merchandising? Enough with the Star Wars and Indiana Jones crap! Where are the boxes of Lego pieces that allow kids to engage their own imagination? Why are there teeny weeny toy guns in the kits made for five year olds? And why is there one lousy box of random pieces in a pink box on the bottom shelf, as if it were an after thought?

Meanwhile, the "girl" toys are bursting with unicorns and rainbows and sparkles and charms and toothy smiles and tulle and fluff. And pink. All that nauseating pink. The irony of the color of Pepto Bismol is not lost on me.

The old adage "the more things change, the more they stay the same" seems fitting in these times. Here Lily Ledbetter has paved the way for equal pay. We are seeing more and more stay at home dads heading up families. A woman almost because President of the United States for cripe's sake. Women, while facing a long, long journey ahead, have made great strides. Yet we as a society are forcefully shoving our children into gender traps. Yes, traps.

Girls' toys should be pretty (and pink!) while boys' should be rough and rugged. Let's extrapolate this lesson into how children develop emotionally. Are we not telling our girls to just sit pretty and our boys to suck it up and be tough? How are we emotionally equipping our sons to express the crazy quilt of emotions that they feel? How are we teaching our daughters to stand up for themselves? If children do indeed learn through play, we are setting up a pretty poor, lopsided playground for their future.

Come on toy manufacturers and buyers, girls shouldn't be relegated to the kitchen. And boys need more than dirt and noise.

An orginal Deep South Moms Blog post.

You can find Ilina organizing her sons' toy food into the five food groups and building Lego furniture. She blogs at the aptly named Dirt & Noise and runs her own marketing consulting firm.

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