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Friday, December 18, 2009

Christmas shopping brings out the feminist in me

When Annika was an infant I decided not to let Annika be one of those babies whose sex people were constantly trying to guess because of gender neutral clothing. Even though I did not rush out and buy a ton of pink frilly clothes, I gladly accepted and dressed Annika in the ones that were given as gifts. When buying stuff I tended toward purple and red, still pretty girly colors I suppose.

But even so, I consider myself a feminist, a strong female and a mom who will always attempt to avoid defining my daughter's gender for her. I have been trying to pay close attention to the type of toys I buy for Annika. She has balls and trucks, crayons and paper, chalk, baby dolls, animals and Legos. Pretty standard stuff for a 19 month old. And other than the baby dolls, very gender neutral toys. Anyway, a lot of boys have dolls too nowadays.

On the other hand, I don't want her to feel like she can't be girly if she wants to. I just don't want it to be thrust upon her. I am not particularly girly and sometimes I wish I was a little bit more.

When I made her Christmas list I did not think anything of the items I listed: farm animals, play kitchen, table and chair set, play dishes and play food, and a Big Wheel.

I knew in the back of my mind that there were a few other items that I wanted to get her, but these were the main things I wanted to get her. These were not items I just randomly chose by the way, but items I have picked specifically because I have seen her play with them at other people's houses and seem to enjoy them tremendously.

Then I began shopping. Big Lots was my first stop to see where the prices on play kitchens started.

I saw a nice little kitchen cookware set with a pot, a pan, and a steam kettle. It was only $7, so I threw it in the cart. That would go nicely with her play kitchen.

Then I saw a housekeeping set. What caught my eye in this was the tiny broom. Annika loves brooms. She always wants to sweep with our big broom and when we visit my parents she plays with the little chimney broom they keep by the fireplace. So I snatched it up for only $10.

On my way out of the store I was feeling good about my purchases and then it hit me.

Everything on the Christmas list except for the animals and the Big Wheel were Little Fucking Susie Homemaker items. WTF!

Ok, now I'm confused.

Does she like these items simply because that's what is developmentally appropriate? Or does she like these items because that's what everyone else has and so that's just what she's been exposed to? Or does she like them because she sees me using them?

When I got home I inspected the two things I purchased. The cookware I can live with. The pots and kettle are red and shiny and very basic. The name of the set is simply 6 pcs Kitchen Cookware Set.

But looking at the housekeeping set I'm pretty nauseated by the packaging and marketing and I'm considering returning it out of sheer feminazi principles.

The whole damn thing is swathed in pink. The picture on the front is a blonde little girl dressed in pink smiling happily holding the sponge and mop. But the worst part is the name. Just Like Mom's.

Yeah, and it's on stickers on every item in the box too.

Why does it have to be Just Like Mom's?

Why can't it be Just Like Dad's?

But really, why can't it just be named, Housecleaning Stuff or some other neutral name kind of thing?

And while we're at it, why can't the picture be of a boy holding the damn mop and sponge?

I'm particularly sensitive to marketing like this because a few years ago when I was in school (the second time around, so not that long ago) I did a paper on gender roles in the media.

I'm not going to go all manifesto on you but the gist of all the research was that the media is still very behind the times on how women are portrayed, particularly in the areas of advertising and sports. Even more specifically, in advertising, cleaning products are way behind the times and still portray women in these roles almost 100 percent of the time. The studies also noted that it is likely that gender roles are influenced heavily, if not completely defined, by what we see in the media.

I'm not writing this thinking that most people who are even semi-literate aren't aware of this nowadays, but apparently this shit still sells. And even worse, I can't believe I have become numbed to some of it.

I'm also not foolish enough to think that one Christmas toy will set off a chain of events that will leave Annika wearing hair rollers and an apron most of her life.

I know that Annika will likely be influenced by what she sees in the media, but I also know that she will be even more influenced by what she sees me do.

If I buy into this tired stereotype, then what am I telling my daughter? That it's okay to allow our society to continue to accept this sexist attitude towards women and girls?

I've also read that women, (specifically women in my age group) actually have somewhere around 80 percent of the buying power in a household. (In my household I have 100 percent. Hmph.)

So what does that tell me? Well, it tells me that even though I certainly can't control what advertisers do, I can control the messages that come into my home. I don't want that drippy, sweet passive imagery to invade my household and my daughter's view of the world.

So yeah, I'm going to return it. Now if I can just find the damn receipt.


  1. It's complicated parenting a daughter, isn't it? That's not to say that parenting boys was easy and free of these types of issues, but now that I have my little girl, it seems more of a concern. I'm with you - why wasn't the housekeeping set in gender neutral colors and why didn't it show both boys and girls enjoying it? Boys love to "help" with cleaning, etc. and I believe its imperative to encourage them to do so. Now that I think about it, this was a problem with my sons. I often had to search high and low to find toys relating to housekeeping or childcare that weren't super-girly. In fact, I believe the flexibility that girls have in dressing and playing with "boy" toys will be one area that will make raising a daughter a bit easier. I was always having to rate whether clothing, activities, etc. were too "girly" for my boys to be participating in. (Of course, at that time I was married to a real manly-man/chauvanist so I often had to run things by him for approval, and this process certainly limited our options.)In any case, I guess its our job to level the playing field for both boys and girls as best we can with all the crap that the media is pouring in at them from every angle. Good luck to us! :)

  2. Damn. I just tried to post a long-winded (and cleverly written, of course) comment to this blog but lost it in cyberspace. Oh well. General idea was that the housekeeping set should have been in neutral colors because boys like to "help" too and its good for them to feel comfortable doing so. There's no reason for the overwhelming genderizing of boys and girls toys. Its ridiculous. With that said, we have a LOT of pink around here, but not every damn thing is covered in ponies and princesses.


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