David Mogolov is a dad, a comedian, and a playwright. His parenting comedy is forthcoming as a collection titled “I Should Have Done That Differently.” Kara Baskin is a mom, a journalist, and author of “Size Matters: The Hard Facts About Male Sexuality That Every Woman Should Know.” With a mix of expert insight and first-person reassurance, they tackle your parenting worries and woes.
Q. Lately, my five-year-old daughter has been gravitating toward boys’ toys. Over the holidays, I got judgmental comments from my parents because she was ignoring the My Little Ponies they bought her and pretending to be a Ninja turtle. I hate to admit it, but part of me wants to steer her toward more traditionally “girly” toys. I don’t want to suppress her personality, but I’m worried that she’s in for teasing.
David: Suppress that urge to steer her. Every kid is different, everybody’s interests vary, and if there’s any kind of gender expression going on, trying to stifle that is bad for your daughter. Let her be who she is.
I admire your daughter’s disregard for the gender signposts around toys. For a child to brush past all the social pressure and marketing and play with the toys she likes is a sign of independence that could serve her well. If she does face teasing, you should be reinforcing her confidence, rather than being the most powerful voice of all telling her to be ashamed.
Kara: Exactly. For the love of Barbie and Ken: Keep quiet! Please don’t try to steer your child away from the toys she loves. As adults, we spend enough time doing things we don’t love. Childhood is the only time that we humans get to do exactly what we like, fearlessly and without worrying about a hangover in the morning. That time is precious. Unless your child is decorating your bathroom with permanent markers, encourage her fun, because it’s how she’s developing her sense of self. By steering her in other directions, you’re sending a message: “Your ideas aren’t right, so change.” No child should hear that.
On a blunter note, I’m wondering if the underlying issue could be that you’re worried about your daughter’s choices because they might reflect on you and spark uncomfortable conversations with, say, your parents. I get it — nothing stings like a well-meaning grandparent editorializing about your kids’ behavior. But be honest with yourself: What part of this scenario makes you uneasy?
David: As the dad of a little girl, I actually wish more girls would rush the boys’ toy aisles. Not because Ninja Turtles are better than My Little Ponies (toys marketed for boys often send their own rotten messages), but because the toys aimed at girls are almost always explicitly feminine, while boys’ toys occupy both the masculine and the neutral. It’s a disservice to girls: Blocks and cars don’t have gender.
Unfortunately, a lot of “gendered” toys are harmfully so, and a lot of parents are starting to notice. One response to this is IAmElemental, a line of female action figures with superpowers rooted in strength of character. The toys were created, in part, to counter the terrible body image ideas girls might get from popular action figures.
“If you go looking for a woman in the superhero section of your toy store, you’re in for a surprise. The breasts and derrieres are often times bigger than their heads,” says Julie Kirwin, chief Elemental officer at IAmElemental.
The toys were one of Time magazine’s 25 Best Inventions of 2014, and they are clearly resonating with parents, their daughters, and their sons. This doesn’t surprise Kirwin. “Toys are not ‘for girls’ or ‘for boys’ — toys are for play, for exploration, and creative expression.”
Kara: Gendered toys are extremely prevalent now, more so than a generation ago. Ninjas and ponies are fine in moderation, but also try to buy your daughter gender-neutral toys like Legos and art supplies.
David: You may want to scrutinize the toys for other reasons, like character body sizes and proportions that can sew the seeds of distorted body image, but don’t worry about pink and blue and purple and green. If your daughter is showing imagination and excitement in her play, having fun and telling stories, then her toys are serving her well.
Kara: Right. Especially at this age, when kids are experimenting with different personas, it’s all about testing. Her passion for ninjas doesn’t mean she won’t switch to dolls or cars in a few months. At her age, I was chopping the hair off my Malibu Barbies. Much to society’s benefit, I did not become a hair stylist. Last month, my 4-year-old son wouldn’t stop watching Mickey Mouse. Now it’s Batman. At this stage, your daughter’s taste in toys might change — but the way you treat her interests will have a lasting effect. As long as you’re providing her with options, please relax. Kowabunga, dudette.