The Perils of Toy Shopping With a Feminist Mom

How are our daughters supposed to grow up to be ‘Lean In’–worthy execs if most of the play mops and stoves are labeled for girls?

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Three generations of women walk into a toy shop. The older woman’s goal is simple: to find a fabulous toy for a little girl. It aligns exactly with the goals of the child, recently turned 3 and freshly aware of the thrill of buying stuff.

But alas, the woman (me) in the middle of the generational sandwich has more complex goals. The toy must be fabulous, of course, but it must also do nothing to discourage the child (my daughter) from becoming a smart, ambitious citizen who can bust through glass ceilings to become a Sheryl Sandberg–like superwoman (ahem, if that’s what she wants).

Lofty and unachievable goals for a Tuesday? Surely not.

Thus I march my family through aisles of pink plastic to find educational toys in the bowels of the warehouse. It’s dark and dingy back there. “How about a floor puzzle?” I say optimistically. My mom’s face twists in doubt. “Construction blocks? This fractions game, perhaps?”

(WATCH: Don’t Try to Buy This Girl a Princess Doll)

Luckily, intergenerational warfare is postponed by the disappearance of my daughter. A frantic search finds her in the pink toy aisle, sitting inside a miniature car. The motorcar is plastic, it is pink, and it is branded by a well-known doll whose breasts are bigger than her feet.

I’ve never seen my child so happy.

Naturally I’m horrified. This busty doll, in whose brand my daughter has taken a sudden, zesty interest, is at the epicenter of feminist critique. After all, she glorifies superficiality and the kind of oversize homes last seen before the housing crash. Worse, she touts glittery pink products named Glam Vacuum Set! and Glam Laundry!

As anyone with a mop knows, domestic duties are not Glam!

Furthermore, the pinkness of the products bolsters the lie that housework is girls’ work. A vision of Sandberg’s book, Lean In — a feminist manifesto still fueling debate about women’s internal barriers to leadership — hovers before me. Sandberg argues that progress toward gender equality has stalled when it comes to heterosexual couples sharing housework. She cites research to show that women who bear the brunt of domestic duties are less likely to have happy relationships. Tellingly, a separate 2011 survey from the Working Mother Research Institute finds that mothers — both those who work in the house and those outside — feel guilty about the cleanliness of their homes.

I’m afraid it’s true. My abiding fantasy is to have a less grimy kitchen floor.

This Tuesday suddenly got complicated. Here’s my daughter in this beastly pink car with her imaginary baby in the backseat and her pretend groceries in the trunk. Plastic stoves, brooms and shopping carts surround her. Each is gussied up in pink packaging, and all have photos of ecstatic little girls who’ve plainly reached the peak of childhood delight.

(MORE: One Girl’s Quest to Make the Easy-Bake Oven More Boy-Friendly)

I don’t see exultant, vacuuming boys on these wrappers. In fact, here in this mass-market toy store, Sandberg’s vision of a world where men run half the homes is looking a little naive. (Though we do have to thank Hasbro for coming out with an Easy Bake Oven last year that isn’t girlish pink, but it took a 13-year-old girl to suggest it.)

Just to be sure, I peek into the boys’ aisle to see what sort of fantasies they’re engaged in while my daughter scrubs the floor. It’s all blue and camo brown in there. Alongside guns, swords and wrestling belts, I see a lawnmower, a carpentry bench and a grim-looking toy that simulates bug extermination. In mimicking traditional (read: manly) roles at home, the little boys on the wrappers have clearly reached the summit of childhood delight.

These are the boys who’ll leapfrog over my daughter in the workplace, I think, sweat prickling my wretched brow.

It gets worse. Back in the girls’ aisle, I spy a pink doll stroller and even pinker microwave. My feminist heart sinks for I just know that of all the toys in this massive store, these are the ones to make my child squeal with delight. I draw closer. A vision of Sandberg’s face leans toward me, but I swat it away as I look around for gender-neutral versions of these toys. Nope, the only option is pink.

(MORE: Why Are Parents Less Likely to Take Little Girls Outside to Play?)

Sandberg’s face reappears (she is after all the emblem of tenacity). “Do you want your daughter to suffer unequal pay and a lopsided marriage?” she asks with a penetrating California smile. “You’re encouraging toys that glamorize domestic toil,” Sandberg warns. “We all know what research says about that.”

I’m seized with motherly self-doubt. Thanks to an unimaginative toy industry that continues to typecast our kids by gender, I’ve turned a family outing into an obstacle course I can’t win without being a killjoy. To make matters worse, my daughter doesn’t even like gender-neutral toys. Her happiest fantasyland is one sparked by her pink broom, her pink cookware and her pink collection of dolls. Maybe, I think hopefully, that’s because she hasn’t seen any toys more appealing? What’s a feminist mom to do?

As if party to my tortured tête-à-tête, my daughter says helpfully from within her fuchsia car: “My favorite color is pink.” With a sigh, I curse the mass-market toy industry for hindering the progress of her emerging Lean In generation. Defeated, I guide my mother and her checkbook toward the pink stroller and even pinker microwave oven.

(MORE: Kids Who Don’t Gender Conform Are at Higher Risk of Abuse)

But surely, I ask, buying toys for little girls ought not become an existential battle. As things stand, I see my daughter’s girlhood scrolling before her, spooling from pink ovens to blond dolls teetering on high heels, to neon thongs for preteen Lolitas who’ll grow up to do most of the housework. That doesn’t seem rosy at all. For Mother’s Day, perhaps the mass-market toy industry can challenge designers to get more creative about what little girls want?

After all, I bet I’m not the only parent for whom the finest gift would be the end of all this pigeonholing pink.

72 comments
Jessie_JS
Jessie_JS

Your daughter likes pink barbies because that is mostly a biological difference, and maybe only slightly a cultural one. Young monkeys have similar preferences, males prefer blue cars and females pink dolls. This is shown in data of scientific articles. Such as this one:  http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/20232129.

Maybe feminists should reconsider their position that biological differences are only minimally important. Although I do agree that for other things cultural differences may play big roles.

BigBanjoMan
BigBanjoMan

That little girl in the picture is just darling!  Her parents, especially her father, must be very good-looking!  

punkakes13
punkakes13

i think there should be there should be freedom.. and personalities should let flown.. like u let kids choose what they like early on

punkakes13
punkakes13

i wanted prodigy kids.. the beyond.........hahahahahahaha 

punkakes13
punkakes13

clothes or looks aint got much to do with idealogy. for what happens is that sometimes we dont want to be portraited as the stigma that some styles may carry on. being girly and loving pink, can mix with being incredibaly smart and wize.. as long as the grades r good and the daughter havre smart conversations, i think she could wear as much as pink as she wants, id be fine with that..

GetASenseOfHumor
GetASenseOfHumor

Hey people, calm down!  The author obviously meant for this to be a humorous piece, and I found it hilarious!!!  Lean In is a really popular book right now that is on many people's minds.  The author is making a joke, imagining the author's judgement as she buys her daughter a pink stroller and microwave oven.  It's pretty disturbing that this piece inspired such hatred in so many people.  All parents struggle with these internal dialogues as they think about whether they are raising their kids in the best way possible.  The author obviously loves her little daughter and just wants the best for her.  Not every woman (or man!) is going to be happy with traditional gender roles, and many parents just want to make sure that their children believe that there are many choices available to them in today's world. 

TrudyW.Schuett
TrudyW.Schuett

Whew! for a moment there I thought I was mistakenly reading the 1972 edition...hilarious satire!

nikkimeredith
nikkimeredith

What’s shocking about this article is the vitriol expressed in the comments. The way they build to a fever pitch leads me to believe there’s a bit of a crowd mentality at work. Carolyn Jones simply shares her hopes for her little girl and her concern over the way society tends to thwart those hopes. Unless I missed it, she’s not proposing that a law be enacted to ban pink toys for girls.She’s saying she wishes there were more choices. For the life of me, I can’t understand why that is so threatening. I can’t help thinking there’s a lot of free floating anger out there looking for an outlet, any outlet, no matter how benign.

 

highcotton
highcotton

Oh, and I'm betting there's no daddy in the picture.

highcotton
highcotton

As a grandmother, I only have one thing to say:  Thank God none of my sons ever brought home such an airhead!  What a sickness feminism turned out to be.

timmaguire
timmaguire

How about you let your little girl be a little girl? There will be plenty of time later, when she's in high school or college, to screw her up. For now, how about letting her be more than an extension of your politics?

Discursions
Discursions

You know what toy would discourage a daughter?  Time magazine.

antistotle
antistotle

I worked *really* hard to not drive my little girl into the pink princess pit of doom. In fact I was a stay at home dad from about 6 months to 18 months (I then went off to Baghdad for a year to support the war effort), and I dressed her in whatever was at the top of the drawer, toys were acquired in the basis of developmental skills regardless of color or gender designation.

I go to Baghdad for a year and I come home and SOMETHING turned her into a dress wearing wanna-be-princess.

I was *SO* annoyed.

I blame the grandmothers.

Then again she goes to Martial Arts, does archery and when developmentally appropriate will be learning firearms. She gets drilled hard in math and science (we homeschool).

So to one way I sympathize.

In another way, OMFG, can you be any more clueless and neurotic? Anxious to feed the next soldier in the War of the Sexes into the grinder?


There is no glass ceiling and hasn't been for a generation. Women who choose to put off motherhood forever actually *out earn* men with families. Men without families do worse.


People make choices, and those choices have consequences. ALL of the statistics out there suggest that women make choices that negatively impact their income. Some men make those same choices and GET THE SAME RESULTS. Go talk to anyone in the tech or financial industries about guys who are adamant about "9 to 5" and "work-life balance". They don't get promoted up, and they're not well respected. Women, at least, just don't get the promotion. No one thinks anything less of them for wanting to get home to the kids.


Yeah, I know. I know  EXACTLY what went through your head on that last sentence. And it's SO bloody typical that you leftists want to make radical changes to systems you don't understand and they get all whiny when things don't break your way.

luagha
luagha

Simple.  Buy her a pink Power Ranger and pink Power Range sword-beamer accessories.  Now she can kick ass in pink!

AdamWeisshaupt
AdamWeisshaupt

Why do so many people have such a hard time accepting that the traditional male and female roles exist because the the division of labor is more efficient (no matter which gender  is actually doing the tasks)   and in many, very real ways, men are different from women.  I said different. Not Better.  Men are (as a group)  better at some tasks than women ( as a group)  and vice versa - When talking about groups that means there are women who are just as good as men at certain things, just as there are men who are just as good as women at certain things.    A Marriage that doesn't play to the strengths of each party brings to the table is squandering precious resources. And those strengths and weaknesses DO follow a pattern based on your gender.  Not to mention that men are biologically expendable.  One man can impregnate dozens of women. One woman can have one baby.  Hey, maybe we should send the men off to war? To pick up the trash? To crawl around in attics and crawlspaces with pesticides? To deal with  the dead and probably diseased  carcass of whatever vermin invaded the house. Sure, women can do these things, but its probably better for species survival if the men do them.   Yes, encourage your daughter  and son to be all they wants to be within their individual  limitations- but don't be too surprised if their abilities, likes and dislikes tend to fall along gender lines.   Reality is still reality even if you wish it had different characteristics. Anyone who has had children knows their genders are not solely "social constructs"  and to the degree that they are , they are time tested ones that have led to  the success for  families and the people in them.  You want to experiment with new constructs to see if they lead to better results that is fine, but that doesn't mean the old ones are wrong, or that you can repeal human nature and the biological realities on such a whim. 


alankh
alankh

Pausing from my laughter for a bit...one observation about feminists is that by and large they see the white-collar world as their preferred means of ascent. They don't make office-work-related toys **for either gender** - unless you count Dilbert paraphernalia, which doesn't exactly extol the awesome awesomeness of office work.


Prediction: Barbie's Dream Cubicle will come in pink.

CaliforniaLawyerDude
CaliforniaLawyerDude

Because the feminist movement has produced so many happy women, right? Why would you subject your daughter to the same soulsucking void of self-hate you just demonstrated in this article?

Here's a pro tip. When parenting, carefully examine everything you think is important, and do the opposite, your daughter will thank you for it. 

pmanner
pmanner

Wow.  Talk about being educated beyond one's intelligence. 

Your daughter is 3.  In a year or two (half a lifetime for her, BTW), she'll want to drive trucks, or play with trains, or whatever.  Or maybe not.  Maybe she'll decide that black is her favorite color. 

In any case, you have a healthy, intelligent child.  Be thankful for that, instead of whining that she's not choosing the toys you think she should choose.

william.radigan
william.radigan

This is terrible. Carolyn is with her mother and daughter for what must have been a good 45 minutes and not once did she talk to them about the importance of diversity.  Not once did she impress on them the urgent danger of global warming.  Not once did she explain to them the importance of healthy, unprocessed, organically grown and local foods.  Nothing about smoking, nothing about recycling, nothing about exercise, nothing about texting and driving.  Correctly chosen toys are important Carolyn but your dependents need you in so many other ways as well!

derfelcadarn
derfelcadarn

Carolyn it is clear that you need therapy. Perhaps if you allow your daughter to like what she likes no matter what, she will notr be in need of it when she grows up.

stevesturm
stevesturm

If she thinks letting her kid play with dolls dooms the kid to a less than happy career, she is the one with her head not on right.

BasilBuckner
BasilBuckner

The gift is for your daughter, not you. Grow up and give something without strings attached.

DaveDuBose
DaveDuBose

Most children hate their parents at some time but they grow out of it.  Yours won't.

SMacklin
SMacklin

"perhaps the mass-market toy industry can challenge designers to get more creative about what little girls want?"

If you possessed an ounce of common sense and basic market knowledge you would know that toy companies do pay attention to what little girls want. The reason everything is pink? Pink Sells. Pink is what little girls want.

I you didn't have your head shoved so far up your ideology you might have gleaned that from the very experience you just described.

RufusFrazier
RufusFrazier

I think the simplest course would be some kind of male hormone treatments for the little girl, possibly combined with mild electroshock therapy to get her interested in those evil toys which apparently inspire sexual dominance.

Stoutcat
Stoutcat

Geez Ms. Jones, relax! Sometimes a Barbie is just a Barbie.

troblog
troblog

Where are boys leapfrogging over girls exactly? Certainly not in school where girls are attending and graduating college in much higher precentages than boys.

geekwitha45
geekwitha45

I have distinct sympathy for those poor kids whose  parents and caregivers believe that toy selection and ideological consideration have anything to do with each other.

JenniferBonin
JenniferBonin

As a girl whose favorite color was green and whose least favorite color was pink, I strongly agree that toy-makers should have optional colors (for both genders).  But I have to say, as a three-year-old, I'd have gravitated to the sit-in car, myself, regardless of gender or barbie-ness.  Because cars that you can sit in are WAY cooler than some stupid doll.  Did you consider looking at it that way?  What could be more gender-neutral than a car?  The color isn't really important.

As for the type of toys in the "boys" versus "girls" aisles, I hope it's occurred to you that you can, actually, shop in BOTH places.  I've got this awesome picture of my friends' daughter on her 3rd birthday, wearing her brand-new sparkly pink princess dress while playing with her brand-new hammer-and-saw tool-kit.  She didn't see anything odd about this, and neither did her (engineer) parents or friends.  If your daughter likes pink, so what?  She can wear pink and STILL do whatever she wants when she grows up, you know.

postingonline42
postingonline42

I don't have this problem. Instead of shopping for things, I use tag sales, freecycle, and thrift shops. Toys are not grouped by gender (usually) and my baby girl has nothing pink. (I drive by the pink tag sales) She likes her older brother's large toy cars right now. It's not a problem unless you make it a problem. As i told my husband -- you can't put french fries on your kid's plate then lament he doesn't eat vegetables. Don't like pink? don't shop there! Can't afford the upscale wooden-toy places? Go to thrift stores!

FishyLuvSite
FishyLuvSite

I agree with Samantha Garter below.  I found the exact same thing to be true for me.  I have a degree in gender studies (like she talks about) and thought I knew everything about everything.  Then (whoops!) along came my precious little one.  Now things like defecit spending do worry me, because I wonder what will happen to my kid.  Now things like studies of ducks mating habits and the protection of the wolf/moose balance on some island mean a lot less to me.  Now I do think that people on welfare need to pick themselves up and work, like I do.  Now I realize that most of what we studied in the university means nothing in the real world.  I see that grabbing a sign and shouting stupid phrases at "The Man" is not putting food in my baby's mouth.  Now the things that used to be so important to me . . . just aren't.  It's like a religious conversion.  I was blind but now I see.  I voted for Obama the first time, but not the second time.  I could not bring myself to pull the lever for RMoney, but I wonder how far my transformtation is going to take me.

HiramJGoldstein
HiramJGoldstein

Here's the problem with your whole feminist take on things. Women don't actually want men who are domestic equals. Oh sure, you SAY you do, but in real life, women punish domesticated men with lack of sex. When it comes to sex, we men are painfully simple. We inevitably end up doing whatever women sexually reward us for. The reality is you ladies are substantially less attracted to a man behind a vacuum cleaner.

http://www.medicalnewstoday.com/articles/255763.php

SamanthaGarter
SamanthaGarter

Stop attacking Ms. Jones, people.  As saccharine as this article is, it shows a certain "ah-hah!" moment that all parents go through on their way from the place called childhood to parenthood.  Suddenly Ms. Jones is realizing that childhood and gender roles don't necessarily line up with the purely theoretical bilge she has been inhaling from (likely childless) NPR-quoting Professors of Useless Studies.  We all get there eventually.  We grow up.  It's why every generation has an Occupy Wall Street and a Gloria Steinem, and every generation confidently predicts that they will see the last of conservatives, right up till they grow up and become one.

AlexHamilton
AlexHamilton

Who cares what your kids want to play with?   Let them play.  Let them use their imaginations.  I'm not worried about my daughter wanting to become Barbie the same way I'm not worried about someone else's son becoming a Ninja Turtle.  I loved Barbie as a kid.  I now have a PhD in Chemistry and  I wear lip gloss to work (what?!?!)    I  also have no problem firing up the vacuum or doing a load of laundry because I don't want to live in filth, gender roles be damned.  

When did we start over thinking everything?!?!  

jubalante
jubalante

My wife and I gave our daughter her first shotgun (a 410) for her 12th birthday.  By the age of 15 she had graduated to a 12 gauge and a 273 sports rifle. At 19 she goes bow hunting for deer and turkey with us.  Come on down to SE Oklahoma and we'll rear your daughter right!!!  She won't be some wimpy feminist... 

WilliamTeach
WilliamTeach

Or, you could simply let little girls be little girls and decide as they grow up what they want out of life, instead of force feeding her your narrow feminist viewpoint.

guest12321
guest12321

Boys and girls are different.  Simple, no?

morganfrost
morganfrost

Why do "feminists" have such an issue with femininity? I've seen this in the workplace... Some (happily, not all) women seem to think that acting like men is the only way to succeed. It's really not. Boys and girls are different-- and not just physically. That's not such a bad thing!

gotc86
gotc86

"...to neon thongs for preteen Lolitas who’ll grow up to do most of the housework."

It's one thing for a child to play with dolls; it's quite another for a tween to want to BE a doll.  IMHO, parents need to save their energy for the clothes battle to come.

JosieRichard
JosieRichard

@Jessie_JS
You are so misinformed. If you read the research methods for that study you'd see that they are misleading. NEP logic is circular because the hypotheses they come up with are derived from cultural expressions and are then used to explain the same cultural norms. Those monkeys tore the heads off of the closest dolls, and the researchers said that it was evidence of a gendered preference. COME ON. That is just another example of gender dimorphism being used to implant false notions about biological differences. 


NEP is based on the notion that we have no evolved since the Pleistocene. That, in and of itself, is a flaw that makes any and all of their research absurd.

Beyond that, do you REALLY THINK that MONKEYS would give a crap about dolls vs. power tools? MONKEYS?!

morganfrost
morganfrost

@william.radigan You're right!  If ever a case cried out for the intervention of Child Protective Services, this is it!

postingonline42
postingonline42

@HiramJGoldstein Yah there's always one with your viewpoint. But i'm happy with my stay-at-home dad and 2 kids and more on the way (eventually). All the manly-man-men I dated didn't care to settle down.  I'm sure they get more intercourse than my husband -- with several different women at once probably. Some of whom will end up as single mothers. I understand why those men would choose that, but can you understand why I wouldn't trade places with their conquests?

MichaelBecker
MichaelBecker

@SamanthaGarter She deserves every ounce of scorn that can be found.  Her life - at least the "educational" part - has been a total waste to this point and that should be driven home.

SlimJim
SlimJim

@SamanthaGarter  

Agreed. Although it is easy to heap scorn on her, she should be encouraged to examine her world view in light of the evidence.

However, if she clings to her ideology despite her observations of reality, then she worthy mockery.

JenniferBonin
JenniferBonin

@AlexHamilton Agreed.  And lets not forget, there's nothing wrong with giving your child "boy" toys if you think she's going to enjoy them.  Get her that toy workbench and saw, and see if she likes them.  But for heaven's sake, don't force things on her that she doesn't want!