November 29, 2014
I hope everyone had a nice Black Friday. We spent the day in bed watching movies: Hannah and Her Sisters and Blue Velvet (I wanted my wife to see where Lana Del Rey gets all her video ideas from) and spent absolutely zero dollars. But now it’s officially the Christmas season (for those who celebrate it. Also, for everybody else.) and a parent’s thoughts turn to toys.
I went absolutely ape-shit over Xmas as a kid. By mid-November I had 90% of the toys in in the JC Penny catalog circled (the remaining 10% were girl toys) and ended up with most of them under the tree. I would be tired of the majority of those toys in a day (they always seemed cooler on the Saturday morning commercials) but my parents would be stuck with the credit card bill for months. I did love those Hot Wheels well into the summer, though.
Now as a socially conscious feminist, the whole issue of toys brings me great anxiety. First is the fact that most toys for kids today (and all the toys at Wal-Mart) are made under questionable labor practices. The thought of giving a child a toy made by child labor in China is just a deal with the devil. How many of those Black Friday parents are clobbering each other for a Barbie doll that was made by kids who are essentially slaves? Would they buy that doll if they knew? (Probably, they were only $5 at one Wal-Mart.)
But most of what we consume this season has some bad mojo behind it, from the chocolate we shove down kids’ throats to the coffee we drink while we do it. So the first goal this season is to pay attention to where this stuff comes from and who makes it. Portland is a great city to buy local from. It’s not always the cheapest option, but it’s good for the soul and that’s what the Baby Jesus would want.
The other issue is the relationship between toys and gender socialization. I’ve lectured on this topic for 25 years. I’ve always found it interesting that as soon as little girls can sit up we give them baby dolls and start training them for motherhood. Why don’t we similarly train boys for fatherhood? Boys DO play with dolls. They are called “action heroes” and come with guns and “Kung Fu Grip.” I was obsessed with GI Joe as a kid but knew which girls got the Easy Bake Oven for Christmas because they had the cookies (along with their domestic apprenticeship).
The new adds for the Easy Bake Oven are just as sexist as they were in 1972, but the tide has turned. Mattel recently reported its profits were down as Barbie dolls had fallen out of favor. Good. This house will be a Barbie-Free Zone.
I remember the talking Barbies of the 1990s that said things like “Math is hard” and “Let’s go shopping.” That’s not the message I want for my daughter. If she wants dolls, they can have realistic figures and non-gendered aspirations. I want a doll that says, “I’m applying to MIT” and “I’m not a SkyCap. Give your baggage to somebody else.” If she wants to bake things, I’ll get her a chef’s hat and a Gordon Ramsey DVD. Gone are the days of Mystery Date and princess parties.
They gave each kid a Barbie and a doll with real proportions. What they say next really says it all.
Of course my fear is that she’ll want a Little Mermaid costume made in some sweatshop by Vietnamese orphans and know how to sing “Someday My Prince Will Come” instead of Sleater-Kinney’s “I Wanna Be Your Joey Ramone.” Do I honor her choice? Or do I take her to a basketball game instead (explaining that some of the players are wife-beaters)? I really have no idea in a consumerist society like ours how to avoid these moral landmines that are set in front of our children, especially our girls. No answers yet. Stay tuned.
EDIT: Thanks to my cousin Jennifer for turning me on to Amightygirl.com. Take a look at this link below!
Image source: http://feministing.com/2014/11/25/photo-of-the-day-7-year-old-girl-unimpressed-by-sexist-advertising/