Some of the most memorable moments in our children’s lives we get to experience as unobtrusive bystanders, watching them as they play with friends and siblings.
I recently overheard my 4 year old, Siddy, talking to his brother Nikhil and asking his opinion on a matter of utmost importance. “Do you think Santa will ‘X’ out the Dora doll? I promise next year I’ll ask for Power Rangers, cars and a soccer ball.” How precious, I thought, that he had any awareness of social norms to try and rationalize with Santa Claus.
When the boys made their list for Santa, I explained that it was a “Wish List” and Santa would get them 3 to 4 things depending on how good they had been, what Santa’s inventory was like and where they were on his delivery route. Some things, apparently, he just runs out of!! Siddy is not a demanding child and kept his list short but among a few other toys, he asked for a Dora doll. I felt I had to explain to him that if Santa had any more Dora dolls left after giving it to all the girls, he would give one to him.
As a mother of 2 boys, I feel it my responsibility to teach them about equality and respect, especially as it applies to the opposite sex. The seeds have to be planted early on and childhood play takes on a crucial role in teaching these values. Through play they learn about compromise, sharing, following rules, and respect for toys and friends. But despite being a highly progressive nation, our society still dictates that certain toys are “boy toys” and others are “girly toys”.
When Nikhil was about 2, I happened to come across a nice, “masculine” blue and white play kitchen so I bought it for him. My husband’s reaction was that of a typical male. He said to me, in no uncertain terms, “Why the h#@* did you get that for him?!” This coming from a man who happens to be a great cook himself! I had to remind him that most of the greatest chefs in the world happened to be men. The fact is that the kitchen was the most popular toy with all of Nikhil’s and Sid’s friends, girls and boys alike, up until they became more aware of gender biases.
When Siddy was younger he wanted a baby doll and stroller. So, to my hubby’s horror, I bought it for him. I swayed away from the pink and went for the more “neutral” purple since that was all I could find. Siddy spent hours holding, feeding and putting his baby to sleep. I realize from having 2 boys that it’s innately male to want to jump, run, build, break, burp and fart. (Boys love jokes about farting and burping!!) But they also have the capacity to love, care for and nurture. So why are all toys made for girls related to babies, home, domesticity, beauty and fashion and those for boys about building, destroying, science and sports? Kids learn early that pink is for girls and blue is for boys. I think we are the only nation that abides by this ideology. I find it disturbing that Legos, for instance, are marketed mainly to boys. Ask any great inventor or scientist of our time and they will attest that Legos, blocks and tinker toys played a major role in influencing their interest in science and technology as children. Why shouldn’t we give girls the opportunity to create something other than cupcakes from the easy bake oven? Why shouldn’t boys be taught to cook and what it means to take care of someone other than themselves?
Exposure influences who and what children become. I have yet to go to the house of little girls and see a bucket of Legos, or a telescope, or a doctors kit or tool set. It’s usually an explosion of pink and a magical land of fairies and princesses (which, by-the-way, Siddy is asking for but I am truly grappling with!) For now, I’ve decided Santa just might have an extra Dora doll for a sweet little boy. I’m sure after hearing her singing, “We did it! We did it!” for the 100th time, I might want to send Dora to a magical place of her own. I am confident that he will grow out of wanting to play with Dora dolls and such one day. But my hope is that the lessons he learns about loving, caring and nurturing will stay with him for a lifetime and make him a better man.