“Why is it so hard to buy a toy for girls that isn’t patronizing and shit?”
Russel Howard asked this question during one of his comedic bits after he went shopping with his ten-year-old nephew. He noticed how the boy’s clothing and toys were forcibly masculine. “The adverts are all like ‘kill that, be a winner, climb the thing, use your brain, rule the world ‘cause you’re a mother-fu*%ing boy, yeah!” whereas “girls adverts, it’s just a blizzard of pink… ‘Don’t use your brains girls, just be pretty!’”
When I was younger, my older brother got me a G.I. JOE toy as a joke. I didn’t get the joke, but that was when I began to realize that boys play with certain toys and girls play with certain toys. Girls do not play with toy soldiers — they play with Barbie’s and beauty kits. Boys do not play with dolls — they play with toy tractors and trains and build mansions from Legos.
Before a child is even born, its gender is defined as the most significant thing about it. “Boy or girl?” is probably the most asked question of expecting parents. It is a really important question, because if the gender is unknown, how will people know whether to buy the baby pink or blue things? Why allow people to choose for themselves who they want to be when you can instead force them to fit into roles that are deemed acceptable?
People begin training others to fit into “traditional” gender norms before they are even born. Girls are bombarded with toys that exemplify beauty and fashion teaching them “your role in life is to be pretty,” even though a quick Google search reveals that four of the top five fashion stylists in the U.S. are men. Men can be in touch with their femininity and have a good fashion sense just like girls. Not everything should ream ‘as it seems,’ especially when it comes to gender norms.
Can you imagine what the world would be like if children were not limited or forced into certain roles because of their genitals? If people were free to pursue what they were passionate about rather than being constrained to fit into “societal norms,” the world would be more progressive.
Buying girls and boys both Legos, dolls, toy cars and toy kitchens — regardless of gender — would benefit all career fields. There are likely so many women who had high potential to take the world to new places in the STEM field but were discouraged from those careers, because they were given dolls and Barbies and makeup kits when they were young rather than science-related gifts or detective kits to encourage curiosity and learning in this field.
Likewise, there are likely many men who could have helped the education system move further along, but they were given toy cars rather than dolls and fun stationary when they were young.
Forcing gender roles on people before they are even born is harmful to people at the individual level and to society as a whole. It slows progress. The media is also a root-cause of this negative influence on young people.
I grew up watching movies where the female characters, a.k.a. those who I could look up to and hope to be like one day, were pretty women. That was their main purpose in movies: to look pretty.
The men in these movies, however, were always the ones who made the main decisions, who took the risks to get the girl and who saved the world with their magical superpowers. Women characters really just got in the way in those movies because they were often taken and used as leverage, adding another obstacle for the men to overcome or conquer.
Though there is still so much progress to be made in the media world with representation, I am so glad kids today can watch movies like Wonder Woman (2017), Ghostbusters (2016), Zootopia (2016) and How to Train Your Dragon (2010).
If you want to surround yourself or those around you with movies that depict women as more than passive, inactive characters, and rather, portray women as protagonists or main characters, start by doing the Bechdel Test. According to bechdeltest.com, to pass this test, a movie must contain all the following elements: (1) it has to have at least two women in it, (2) who talk to each other, (3) about something besides a man.
Why did this culture decide that the most important thing about someone is their genitals? People are full of so many interesting things and ideas, yet they are defined by whether they have a penis or not. Can we start looking past genitals and see the person instead?
I encourage you: don’t just buy your little girl Barbie’s, and it is OK if your little boy likes pink and playing with dolls! Let people be who they want to be. Gender is just a societal construction, anyways, but that is an article for another day.