Saturday, February 20, 2010

Of Barbies and Balls

I don't know if this is a common occurrence, but with my divorce has come a rising sense of feminism. Sometimes it comes up in ways that seem facetious (yeah, I'm referencing the urinal thing again), and sometimes it's more in-your-face. This would be one of the latter times ...

Belle and I were taking a shower the other day. Belle is six and never stops talking. I have H1N1 again (if that's even possible ... it's what the doctor said, but I have my doubts) and am on that happy cough medicine that loops you out, so I was just kind of nodding and smiling while my little princess was prattling along.

Then she said, "Wouldn't it be funny if a boy's favorite toy was a Barbie?" (I think this had been prefaced by, all in one breath, "IreallylikeBarbies.IlikeMyLittle Poniestoo.Yougettocombtheirhairandmakebraids.Wouldyouteachmehowtobraid,Mommy?Ithinkbraidsaresopretty.Likethegirlonthecocoabox.CouldIpleasehavesomecocoawhenIgetout
oftheshower?"). I interrupted her babbling to say, "What's wrong with a boy liking a Barbie?", and her response was, "Well, that would be like me playing with trucks." At least she didn't wrap that up with, "As if!", but the damage was done in my heart.

My children have been raised with a lot of encouragement in terms of doing what makes you happy. Addie gravitated toward music at a very young age, so we provided her with instruments, lessons, exposure to different types of music, and praise. When she was in sixth grade, her friends all decided to join the track team. Now, Addie is never going to be an athlete, but I didn't want to pop her bubble or tell her that she couldn't do something that she seemed really excited about doing. She stuck with track that year but never did it again. It just wasn't her thing. However, it was important to me that she come to that conclusion on her own, that she discover that her own strengths and passions would be different from her friends' ... and she did.

Belle is obviously not old enough to have any sort of in-depth conversation regarding that, though. Instead, I tried to explain to her that boys can play with Barbies if they want to ("Haven't you seen a boy hairdresser?" I asked her, to which she replied, "Yes, but they only cut boys' hair" ... this child is insanely observant, I tell you) just like girls can play with balls and trucks. There was still doubt in her eyes, though, and that makes me so darn sad ... and a bit angry as well.

Although her two activities are karate and gymnastics, Belle's toys are heavy on the dress up clothes, the Barbies, and the house drudgery (yeah, who invented toy kitchens anyway?). Since she shares a name with a Disney princess, she happens to get a lot of toys, clothes, games, and books connected with that particular story. Do you think things would be different if I'd named her Jamie? Terry?

What can parents do to address this very real problem? You would like to think that children in the year 2010 would be exempt from this sort of gender stereotyping, but clearly it's still an issue. Any thoughts? Or is there even anything wrong with a little girl thinking that Barbies are better suited to her needs than ball?