When I was a kid, about this time of year I was perma-lurking around the Christmas tree, eyeing up that pile every day for any new boxes made out to Lil' Baby Kase. Every package was shaken and considered carefully, its contents triumphantly announced. I was basically a child X-ray prodigy: This one is a book, see how the cover bends? Here's a sweater. Those are shoes. Nothing escaped my eye. (Disclaimer: I would likely do the exact same thing now, but everyone knows better than to put anything where my devastatingly accurate guessing skills can effectively ruin Christmas before the day itself.)
But guess what I never declared after shaking, weighing and deducing what was inside those colorfully wrapped boxes? "It's a boy present!"
It's not a revelation to you or me that girls can (and do) like sports and tools and non-pink things just as much as boys can (and do) like dolls and sparkles and pink. The year I got an EZ-Bake Oven for Christmas, I freaked the hell out. I loved it. I love cake. My brother got another plastic oven, green and orange where mine was purple and white. His was a Creepy Crawler maker, and it cooked bugs.
I loved that, too. We shared nicely. No boy toys and girl toys here, just cake and worms, living in harmony like they ought to.
Traversing the toy aisles these days, however, there's a dividing line as clear as the beginning of a rugby match. Team pink and team blue, and never shall the two meet, unless it's in a vicious clash.
"Stepping into the toy aisle in my 20s is still weird. It’s super high-tech but also like: woah, did I step back in time?" she says in the latest "Braless" episode. "The girl aisle: pink and purple. Princesses and dress-up, futuristic cooking and crafting and baby stuff. It’s like 'Little House on the Prairie' meets 'The Jetsons'."
Yowza. But is it really that big of a deal if girls are taught that cooking and princesses are strictly their domain, and to leave the superheroes and trucks to the boys? They'll grow out of it and be whatever people they're meant to be, right? How much could it hurt? Um, a lot, actually. Science says so!
"Gender stereotypes promote shaming and bullying of children that don’t conform," she says. "I’ve seen adults shame kids, and I probably did it myself at some point growing up too. Sadly, kids learn intolerant attitudes too and bully peers who don’t have the 'right' clothes or play with the 'right' toys. Gender stereotypes also limit children’s development. 'Boy activities' -- like building and construction -- teach spatial skills and problem solving, while 'girl activities' -- like art and theater -- encourage fine motor development, social skills and emotional intelligence. Scientists have found that emphasizing particular skills based on sex sets a precedent for inequalities in education and careers down the road."
That's why it's important to get on that noise early. What you're giving your littlest pals this holiday season may actually impact them for life.
"If all the science kits have 'FOR BOYS' written on the box," Green says, "and all the famous scientists on TV are men, and all my science teachers are men... why should it be any surprise that I’m less likely to see myself as a scientist?"
Hot tips for helping your favorite kid grow into the beautiful, skilled and socialized flower they are?
Let them play with what they want! Oven mitt or toolbox, it's all cool!
Don't make fun of them for not conforming.
Explain to them what society might expect of them, and that they don't have to be that.
Don't say what's "for boys" and what's "for girls."
Don't give in to advertising that tries to tell kids they need to play nicely by their expected gender roles.
Happy (non-gendered!) holidays from Braless!