Toys, Stereotypes, and Christmas Shopping

Toys, Stereotypes, and Christmas Shopping

There I was in the midst of a Marshalls store going a little toy crazy trying to decide what toys to get for my kids for Christmas. The Caterpillar brand backhoe came with batteries and buttons and hitting one of them instantaneously spewed out the familiar “beep beep” sound of a big vehicle backing up. Push another button and this time the backhoe signaled its intention to drive forward.

I stood there, staring at this construction vehicle wondering what about it made for such . fascinating play for my son and other kids like him.

My little boy is a walking stereotype of boyhood. He is heavily into trucks, trains, and cars. He pretty much does not play with anything else and only momentarily, if at all. Even though we only recently bought him a few of these toys (e.g., a Duplo Tow Truck and a set of used Disney Pixar cars from a Consignment Sale) to supplement what he did not have in this rich stash already, he got an entire Thomas the Train table and trains as a hand-me-down, along with many other cars and boy-centric toys.

Sometimes I wonder if he is such a cliche because the majority of the toys he was introduced to from a young age were stereotypical “boy” toys like trains, cars, and trucks or did he naturally gravitate toward these even though he had a few other options. Did we fuel the stereotype by continuing to buy him “boy toys” (I hate myself for even making these distinctions)?

Given that his hand-me-downs were from his male cousins, he never had castles, dolls, or kitchen sets with which to play. Would I buy these for my daughter or should I just wait and see how she takes to the trucks, trains, and cars? If I never buy her “girl toys” would she feel like she is missing something? Would she even realize what it was that she was missing? Would she care?

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As I wrote in my worries over raising a daughter, I feel like a hypocrite at times because while I am perfectly comfortable buying my son toys that fall into the stereotypical boy toys category, I see red (or pink) when I think of the pinkification of toys for girls. Obviously, these things sell and I am not naive enough to fight stereotypes without cause. Also obviously, stereotypes exist for a reason. If these things packaged in pink and purple did not sell as much as they did, perhaps girls’ toys would be colored in grey and black. Imagine that! Is this only a US thing? Do marketers in other cultures also see their children in hues of pink and blue?

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Toys on display at a local discount store

Growing up in India, I NEVER thought of toys as being for boys or girls only. We never shopped for toys. Ever. We accepted whatever toys my parents gave us. In fact, one year for my birthday, my parents gifted me a He-Man toy and I loved it. My only disappointment was not also getting a Skeletor. Hehe.

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Photo credit: Surian Soosay via Flickr

I didn’t even think to ask for or wonder about getting a girl toy. I had no concept of this. My sisters and I did have two dolls to play with but they weren’t our default sources of play. We had Indian version of lego like blocks, board games, and card games, that we played with. Mostly though, we were nerds – we loved reading, making our own characters, living in our make-believe world, and didn’t worry or even think about how many toys we did or did not have.

Anyway, returning to Marshalls, I ended up buying a bunch of Melissa & Doug jigsaw puzzles, a Crayola Tabletop Easel (which I may return), and a bunch of small construction vehicles to pack individually for stocking stuffers.

Another conflict I felt was with buying new things for my little girl. She already has a lot of toys, none of which we bought for her, and all thanks to her big brother and her cousins. Quite naturally, as explained earlier, all of these toys are those with which mostly boys play. There are a few gender neutral ones but no “girl” toys. So my concern was – should I buy her baby toys that will contribute even more to our ever growing pile of toys just to buy new ones for her so she can have her own toy for Christmas OR should I just wrap one of her brother’s old toys (but new to her) as her present?

I really wondered if I would feel bad not buying her anything (yep…a First World or Industrialized World problem) new even though it might be wasteful. I wondered if just because she is the second child, she would only be getting hand-me-downs for the rest of her life.

Then again, as she gets older and develops her own interests unrelated to her brother’s there will be things I will get her that will be unique to her and new.

For this Christmas, I did end up buying her a little rainmaker stick with beads that shower in making a pleasant and playful sound and a Shake n Beats Tambourine. As for the little guy, he’ll be getting a bunch of jigsaw puzzles that he loves doing. Oh yes…he will also get his favorite Garbage Truck that I bought at a Consignment Sale earlier this year.

Note: I know that the true meaning of Christmas is not about toys or material items.


15 thoughts on “Toys, Stereotypes, and Christmas Shopping”

  • My son is SUCH a boy with the trucks and cars and anything with wheels…. but – we got a lot of hand-me-down toys from my neighbor who has two girls and he absolutely loves the tea set and kitchen set! He gets to pretend he is flipping eggs in his pan and sipping tea out of cups. So really, I think they will play with anything you give them. Well, almost. He couldn’t care less about the My Little Pony I gave him, lol.

    • That is wonderful to know your son plays with his tea and kitchen sets. I am sure TJ would love them to. He just hasn’t been exposed to much of anything other than his friends with wheels. You make an excellent point – I agree. I do think at this age they’ll just play with anything or at least most things.

  • Some shops are worse than others over here. I took a picture recently of the distinctly “boy” and “girl” book selection, it was horrendous. Others are getting better, same with clothes. I know one department store in the UK has a Boys and Girls range which I think is fab x #Familyfun

    • You’re right in your observation about books. I wasn’t even thinking about them when I wrote this post. Why the heck does it matter if they are books for boys or girls. Shouldn’t it depend on individual interests? Our cultures are so steeped in gender binaries! Thanks for visiting.

  • They great gender debate! I’ve basically decided not to worry about it at all. My son loves his cars and trucks. He also likes to play in the toy kitchen at playgroup. I’m not getting him a kitchen though cos he has too many toys and we’ve only got a small house and not much money. So if I have a 2nd child girl or boy I’ll definitely repurpose my toys. Thanks for linking up to #familyfun

  • I’m a firm believer in not gender typing toys. My daughter is big into superheros and what would be considered “boy stuff.” I wonder sometimes if thats because she knows its what I want to play with, but now that she is old enough to be quite clear on what she wants, her tastes haven’t changed much. She wants a Baby Alive ( girl toy ) for Christmas, but also pointed out that for some reason she doesn’t have a Superman action figure ( boy toy) to go with her collection #familyfun

    • ? I love that your little girl is into different kinds of toys. Why limit oneself when there are such exciting toys both sides of the aisle? Thanks for visiting.

  • I love this. My two have everything from kitchens and dolls to cars garages and trains. My daughter loves cars and dolls and my son likes anything his sister is playing with… given they are so close in age I have effectively brought them joint presents that are gender typical for girls and boys. No doubt they’ll fight about both and struggle to share. I’m not sure there is an answer lol. I’ve also tried not to buy too much this year but I expect somehow my house will still resemble a plastic toy shop. Sigh. Anyway thanks for sharing at #familyfun

  • I think it’s true to say that every child is different… some girls naturally gravitate towards the pink fluffy stuff, some don’t. We tend to let ours lead us rather than suggest to them what they’d like 🙂 #globalblogging

  • My boys have always received “boy” toys and my girls “girls” toys. However they play with each others toys and it has never been an issue 🙂 The boys have tea parties and sleepovers with the girls and the girls play with dinosaurs and trucks with glee. I think we overthink this whole stereotyping situation. Especially in the USA. Where we are reminded daily to not be politically or socially incorrect. I say, let them just be kids. The more we worry about it, the more pressure we put on them. Great read! #globalblogging

    • You are so right. I do believe I have been over thinking this..A LOT! I like that your kids play with “toys” and who cares if they are supposed to be for a specific sex because that’s what marketers promote to you. If the point is to have fun and perhaps learn a thing or two in creative play, then it really doesn’t matter with what toys you play or learn from. Thanks for your comment.

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