I recently said "Yes, sir" to the little boy I babysit. This upset him a lot, as he wanted to be called "ma'am" instead. I agreed to make the change, no questions asked. Adults should take the same approach to children who prefer toys that are traditionally catered to the opposite sex — or at least give kids the opportunity to decide what kind of toys appeal to them. With the holidays just around the corner, this is particularly important lesson to learn now, before all the shopping madness beings.
Here are the top three ways to avoid teaching kids sexism this holiday season.
1) Recognize progress, however trivial it may be.
Top Toy, a toy manufacturer in Sweden, did just that this holiday season by printing out a gender-swapped catalog with boys beside Hello Kitty and dollhouses and girls using Nerf guns. Though a clear attempt to (publicly) combat stereotypes, the move wasn't met with immense praise, as it's not enough to shift the way people have been thinking about toy distribution for as long as we can remember. As Rebecca Pahle of geek girl culture news site, The Mary Sue put it, "I think that years (decades, centuries) of the 'girls should play with babydolls and doll houses and princess toys, everything in pink' mindset means that a catalog isn’t likely to pressure girls into asking for a Nerf gun instead of a Barbie if they prefer the latter."
True, but for the past four years, Sweden has shelled out 110 million Swedish crowns ($16.3 million) to incorporate gender equality into classrooms, so the catalogue isn't the only positive change the country has to show for. However insignificant in the grand scheme of things, the catalogue is a step in the right direction now, especially coupled with another recent instance of somebody pushing for gender-neutral toy marketing.
2. Support and maybe even start measures to eschew toy purchasing stereotypes.
New Jersey eighth grader McKenna Pope may only be 13 years old, but she's got a lot more on her mind than the average junior high school student. The young lady recent launched a Change.org petition to get Hasbro to market Easy-Bake Ovens, which are typically pink or purple, to boys as well as girls. Pope was inspired to take action after her culinary-loving 4-year-old brother expressed interest in receiving an Easy-Bake Oven for Christmas. The problem, Pope says, is that Easy-Bake Oven commercials don't feature boys and its products have gender-specific hues.
Her sibling not only felt alienated, but potentially put himself at risk by trying to "cook" tortillas on a light bulb. So far, Pope has garnered more than 32,000 petition signatures, just a little more 2,000 behind her goal. Mattel has also come out with a new Barbie construction set that could bring about more female engineers, so it's definitely possible to keep gender stereotypes out of toy purchasing this year.
3. Withhold judgment.
A couple of years ago, a former classmate's 2-year-old son received a baby doll for his birthday and refused to part with it. This made his parents uncomfortable, and they eventually threw it away. That was their choice, but I don't think I'd do the same. Telling a child it's not okay to want something typically marketed towards the opposite sex is equivalent to trying to change who he/she is or wants to be. Unless the kid requests a toy that could be potentially dangerous (think A Christmas Story: "You'll shoot your eye out, kid!"), impractical, or absurdly expensive, there's no reason to treat it like contraband.