One of the reasons I started the list of 100 Science Fiction Women was to address the idea that science fiction, in particular, but genres like horror and fantasy as well are primarily the realm of men and boys. I wanted to showcase the fact that we can find women role-models within “nerdy” genres, and that these women can be powerful and action-oriented, or intelligent and wise, or, quite often, both. Women in science fiction can love men or women or can be strong alone; they can be mothers and grandmothers or can be without children. What the spread of women we see in science fiction shows is that there is no one path for women, and that as a young girl, or as an older woman, we should be free to make choices and follow what appeals to us. I have loved science fiction and fantasy since I was quite young and I don’t think this in any way detracts from being a girl.
In that context and with that background it has been interesting to follow the discussions on girls’ toys and boy toys, which, while already ongoing, has been galvanised around Lego’s introduction of its “Friends” range for girls.
I must say that I agree with many of the commentators that this Lego ad from the 1970s is a much better representation of how I would like to see Lego marketed to girls. I played with primary block colour Lego as a child and continue to be a big fan. We used Lego alongside our doll’s house, our Fisher Price toys, our blocks and my brother’s cars to build sprawling cities which were inevitably struck by natural disasters (usually floods). These were games in which my sister and brother and I participated equally (actually, to be honest, as the oldest I was the bossy one and the director of the mise-en-scene) – not games for boys or girls.
Anyway, a fabulous discussion on the Lego decision from The Age is worth a read. Lego is trying to respond to a market it sees, and it is that broader notion that toys are gendered which is increasingly problematic. Another good discussion of the general approach is here. There have been some alternative views – that little girls can under-cut stereotypes and play subversively with Barbie (and I certainly know some mothers who do that) or that constant attacks on pink or girls’ toys is another form of anti-womenness. While I see these views, it is easier for girls to be subversive if exposed to different ideas and not subsumed in princesses and hairdressing, and while there is nothing wrong with pink per se, why is it all girls can have and forbidden to boys? The fact that pink and Princesses are so confined to the world of girls leads to the denigration, and that same notion that girls are best when they are decorative and house-making. Do serious people of business wear pink? It is funny how mothers of toddler boys (including myself) often end up investing in girls’ pyjamas or shoes because their boys want some pink like their friends. At 3 and 4 children are relatively gender-blind and do not understand the binaries of society.
As I have said in another post, feminism should be about having choices, not having choices made for you. If girls (or boys) like dolls, then dolls they should have. But if they like trucks or trains they should have those also, and not be judged for it. Choice is more than everything being physically available to you – choice is about being able to do things without social approbriation. My concern is that the more girls and boys are forced in gender-based choices of toys and the like, the less choice they have as people around them expect more and more conformity. I had a chemistry set at 11 and bug catchers before then, and I would love my nieces to want the same things. If their choice is genuinely different, then that is their choice, which should also be respected and not denigrated because it is a ghetto for girls.
For Christmas this year I bought my 2 and a half year old niece a train set – not because I was trying to force non-gender specific toys on her, but because I am told she loves Thomas (personally, I’ve never really been a train person). I bought the similarly aged-daughter of a friend a Playmobil castle with a Princess and a pink unicorn, but I did buy her a Self-Rescuing Princess t-shirt to go with it. My boys have all had dolls, which they played with to a greater or lesser extent, but various teddies have been nurtured and put to bed and played with over time. They have also had tea sets and have served us endless cups of tea and muffins, and have learned to cook themselves. I was impressed this year when our 9 year old got real cooking equipment from two different sources. But they also love nerf guns and Star Wars and endless Lego and cars and all those things too. All kids can and should be allowed to be multidimensional, as the following young social theorist says:
Update: Here is a link to another fabulous article on pink-ification and Pink Stinks from The Guardian