My three-year-old loves her doctor’s kit. Today she insisted on knocking on the bedroom door with a rat-a-tat-tat, doctor’s bag in hand, before administering to the injured monkey on the bed.
She also loves making tea for everyone using her tea set. The oven made for her by her beloved Grandpa. Her wooden farm animals. Charlie and Lola. The Octonauts. Her tool kit so she can “fix things”. She wondered if Father Christmas might think she would like a train set. (He didn’t have enough warning, just in case you’re wondering. Also, he is not madly profligate.) And so, I must add, do all her little boy friends. Toy kitchens – from Ikea up – seem to be de rigeur in most households we know. Every child who visits Alex’s house is obsessed with the toy washing machine.
Last night, we were reading a new book before bed – a rather saccharine tale about a rabbit who goes to a birthday party. Said party is fancy dress – with princesses and fairies in attendance. The rabbit wants to wear a fairy dress (of course she does), so I asked, “Which costume would you like to wear?” “That one,” she said, pointing to the cowboy. “It’s fun.” Atta girl.
Of course, she’s three, and fickle: tomorrow she might fall in love with princesses and dolls – she already displays deep concern when her baby doll doesn’t wear a hat. If she does, so be it – I am pretty sure we can wave fairy wands with as much enthusiasm as we attend stair picnics (a big thing in our house), staff the shop and administer to our sick animals. But for now, I am happy to resist the pinkification of our lives.
So why are toys so gendered? There are pastel building blocks (what’s wrong with bright primary colours for either sex?); Duplo and Lego specifically for girls (sickly shades; sicklier characters); and God help us when she gets older: Strawberry Shortcake – who I remember being round and freckled, is now lithe of limb and flowing of locks. Clover Stroud wrote an excellent, thought-provoking article about this very subject for Stella Magazine.
Last year, I read Steve Biddulph’s Raising Girls. (Follow-up to – can you guess – Raising Boys). Some of it is a bit, well, woolly, but much of it is insightful, inspiring and useful. He is, essentially, the antithesis of corporate modernism. Spend more time with your children; limit television and tablet use (um, even in the car on long journeys, Steve?); teach your girls to be secure in themselves; encourage dirty knees and exploration; encourage them to find their ‘spark’. When it comes to toys he is emphatic: “Avoid anything aimed just at girls. The world does that quite enough already.”
He is also keen that we address how we speak to girls. “I am sure that no parent ever sets out to disadvantage their girls…” he writes. “Yet we unconsciously start making the boys practical and the girls emotionally focused. So here’s a suggestion, perhaps we ought to reverse this.” It reminded me of this brilliant article which I bookmarked and go back to every so often, lest I forget. The central tenet of Lisa Bloom’s argument is that we should refrain from telling little girls how adorable they are, how much we love their hair bows, their dress, their shoes. Instead, ask about them: what they’re thinking; what they want to do today, tomorrow; their favourite book. (We talk a LOT about books in our house.)
Does this make a difference when your child is three? I don’t know. I hope so.
We’d love to hear about your girls: what do they love? How do you talk to them? Do you try and steer them away from princesses and pink, or is it better to give in gracefully to the onslaught? Opinions and advice are, as always, welcome.
Images: Petit Bateau and Bonpoint