Sorting the Holiday Gifts: Generous but Gendered

On the morning following Christmas, I was recovering from a late evening filled with the type of holiday drama usually reserved for television specials. It was raining, and so we did not bring in any of my daughter’s Christmas gifts, save one.

Now, when we are the ones choosing toys for Greysen to play with, Mike and I follow a few simple guidelines. We know toys are important for her development, but I have not yet fully considered how they may affect her self-identification. In her book, Child, Family, and Community: Family-Centered Early Care and Education (5th Edition) Janet Gonzalez-Mena brings attention to the fact that, “toys play an important part in defining gender roles.” With this in mind, I sit down and watch Greysen move the carriage back and forth. I’m torn between her growing interest in the toy and my concern over the plethora of gender-stereotypical messages this one toy sends. I ask myself, does the theme of this toy really matter?

The Toy in Question

Greysen was given a horse-drawn carriage. A kind and thoughtful gift from a loving family member, the giver remembered that we do not own battery-operated, single-purpose toys. As such, she watched eagerly as Greysen slowly ripped the gift wrapping, revealing the toy within, the Fisher-Price Little People Build ‘n Drive Carriage.

The horse-drawn carriage is part of the “Little People” toy line, which features oversized people and blocks that are easy for younger children to manipulate.

The pink and lavender carriage, with heart-shaped center-capped wheels, rolls easily as my nine month-old daughter pushes it back and forth. The white horse has a long mane, a pink flowered bridle and a heart-themed blanket. A princess and prince sit at the reigns of the carriage. This charmed couple is round and safely stays in my daughter’s hands while she tries to put each of them in her mouth.

Pleased that my daughter now has a few building blocks which she can take apart, put together, and use to create multiple play scenarios, I cringe at one single property that again defies our toy guidelines – color. The blocks, for no other reason than that this set has been determined to be a “girls’ toy” are in shades of pink, purple, baby blue, and embedded with glitter.

Color alone is not going to send my daughter the message that she cannot be or do anything when she grows up, but I can not help but wonder how her toys, as a collection, will affect her belief in female stereotypes.

In the classroom, my biggest gripe with toy color was that they were most often offered only in primary colors. Somehow that choice seems infinitely better than the one I’m faced with now. I still have several questions: How rigidly do I adhere to the guidelines Mike and I have set for her childhood? Is she old enough to really be impacted by the design of the toy? Is the fact that it was a gift more important than the possible concerns I have regarding this toy? I find solace in the big picture. Again, Gonzalez-Mena brings balance to my concerns in Child, Family, and Community: Family-Centered Early Care and Education (5th Edition) by acknowledging the importance of what children play with, but also by emphasizing the importance of whom they play with, especially as they age.

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