My three year old watches a lot of TV, cuz that’s the kind of parent I am. And, while I do try to sneak off to indulge in my own amusements while the babysitter is blaring, occasionally he insists that I watch with him. Which, as any of you who have watched the toddler-oriented fare will attest, is slightly less fun than banging your head against a wall repeatedly. Barney. Teletubbies. Little squishy pustule looking guys that give me the creeps.

boobah

My son insists on watching previews. They’re all like mini-shows to him. And that explains how I happened to be watching a preview for a My Little Pony adventure flick this morning. In case you aren’t familiar with the very feminine toys, they’re little pastel colored stubby ponies with big rainbow hair and magical powers. Some are unicorns, some pegasus (pegasi?), but all adorable. There’s lots of pink, lots of frill, and enough sweetness to power Willy Wonka for years. It’s the stuff a gay child’s dreams are made of. Or, at least, I can speak for myself on that. I’ve always loved unicorns. I had posters of them all over my bedroom growing up, bless my faggy little heart.

[Tangent: my wife suggested that one of the little boys in Barney’s shows is gay, and then after a few moments’ pause added “bless his faggy little heart” to establish what we both feel in general: he can be gay and sing his irritating songs and we’ll still love him (or hate him) all the same. “Bless his faggy little heart” has been a non-offensive joke between us ever since. So quit being offended!]

pony

To this day I find myself sometimes drawn inexorably to the super cute on occasion, but far less than as a child. I like your well designed mini-anything, and I see a strange connection to My Little Pony in this affinity. It’s what I like, and it’s not conventional boy stuff. They mentioned March Madness in Elders Quorum today, and I immediately tuned out. I was probably day-dreaming about making mini-scriptures even smaller, or something like that.

Recently when a coworker scoffed at my son’s being enamored with Dora the Explorer (rather than Diego, her male cousin), I remembered why I don’t have unicorn posters anymore. Diego, Dora’s cousin, seems to exist specifically to assuage those folks like my coworker who believe in strict gender interests and gender roles. The show makes a big deal about teaching Spanish, and that seems to have a built-in message of tolerance and diversity, but apparently that only goes so far. My unicorn posters went down when my social awareness went up. I became aware of an unforgiving world that certainly persists today.

Dora

It’s hard for me to tease out what interests are learned and which ones are just there, but I don’t think it should be a crime for kids to like what they like. I don’t think it’s a crime for parents to encourage them to like things they don’t like either. That’s a part of parenting, I suppose, but the motivation behind the effort can be important. One of my nephews wanted nothing more than a set of Disney Princess toys for Christmas, and his parents didn’t care much for the idea. They got him what he wanted, but his family has been encouraging him to embrace more gender-typical toys and interests ever since. As I don’t live nearby, I’m not sure how that has turned out. But, I know they are a loving family that manage to include love and positive development in everything they do, so I doubt their efforts make him feel like he’s not what he should be (or something else belittling).

For all the talk about accepting kids the way they are, and all the talk about encouraging typical gender roles (it is one of the few things that is significantly associated with sexual orientation), I’m not sure where I stand on how to parent. Someone enlighten me.

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9 comments

  1. avatar

    FoxyJ

    We’re still trying to figure all of that out; we had a girl first, so many of our toys are a little more girl-oriented. At the same time, however, for the sake of both my kids we’ve tried to mostly buy non gender-specific toys. This also goes along with my quest to avoid branded toys and clothing (clothes without characters on them usually turn out to be cheaper anyways). So we have lots of things like pretend food, a play kitchen (girls and boys can cook), babies (boys and girls can parent), duplos, dress up clothes (including tiaras and superhero capes), etc. Our little boy is totally in love with Dora and I don’t care. If I wanted to I could strongly push Diego, but he already has a sister who loved Dora so it doesn’t matter to me. I think it’s healthy for boys to have girls as role models as much as it is for girls to have boys to look up to. I don’t know what we’ll do as kids get older–they’re only 4 and 18 months now so it’s pretty easy. If my daughter ever tries to say ‘that’s a girl toy” I just remind her that all of our toys are for girls and boys. I do know it gets harder as they get into school and are exposed to more friends and more media. I’m opposed to Disney Princesses for a lot of reasons, so neither of my kids is getting Princess things as long as I can help it. Maybe we should just stick to BooBa or Teletubbies; hard to tell if they are girls or boys :)

  2. avatar

    When my kids were younger we encouraged toys which:
    1. Helped them learn about real life (science kits, butterfly farms, baby dolls, cooking sets).
    2. Inspired tactile awareness and agility (jigsaw puzzles, building sets, lacing kits, art kits of all kinds).
    3. Aided fantasy play (superhero capes, storybooks, cd’s with children’s songs).
    4. Encouraged outdoor play (swingsets, rollerblades, bikes/trikes, scooters–naturally with helmets and safety pads).
    5. Helped them interact with us (board games, projects requiring adult supervision, activity books which involved parent/child participation).

    We never worried about gender specifics. My second son has always loved babies. He had quite a doll collection until he was four–it distracted him from the live babies momentarily, which was in everyone’s best interest. My first son adored pink–we let him wear it, choose toys in that color, whatever he wanted. My daughter loved matchbox cars and has a huge collection of them. All three of my children seem to have grown up well-adjusted and happy. My sons still love children and baby-sit younger cousins regularly–as does my daughter, who also enjoys helping Dad work on the car and fix bikes.

    My feeling is that as long as they have a good sense of who they are, and a good relationship with their same-gender parent, toys will serve to help them explore and learn–and nothing more. It could be a simplistic assumption. Ask me in ten years if I’ve changed my mind.

  3. avatar

    -L-

    Foxy, please tell me you have never and will never purchase boobah merchandise. Please.

    Samantha, very wise. Thank you.

    Still… even if you support your children exploring whatever interests they might have, their friends may make them pay dearly for it. Does that play in? Should it? I believe it should. I heard not long ago that friends may have a bigger impact on a child’s development than parents (parents’ main contribution being genetic).

  4. avatar

    -L-

    By the way, I just looked again at Dora and Diego and realized that Dora’s head and hair is about twice the volume of her body while Diego’s head is about half the volume of his body. I think there may be a connection between head/body ratio and child affinity. All gender aside, Dora’s cuteness ratio might just be measurably different. Diego, fool that he is, approaches anatomic reality.

  5. avatar

    When I was in elementary—second or third grade, maybe—and would have sleepovers with one of my best friends at the time, I was fascinated with his sisters’ collection of My Little Seahorse Ponies… and I would go play with them and his sisters instead of playing with him… *bowing my head in shame*

  6. avatar

    My friend’s little boy loves Dora too and also plays with his older sister’s cooking set. Yet he loves trucks and cars and super-hero action figures as well. I think adults are more hung up on this stuff than the kids are. Kids just want to have fun, after all!!

    Neal

  7. avatar

    For whatever reason, my kids have never really cared what their friends think. For instance, my daughter just doesn’t like Barbie dolls, but her friends collect them. She’s received them as gifts–they sit in a drawer. My oldest son is a senior in high school. He has a pair of pink high tops he wears frequently. My middle son has always marched to the beat of a different drummer. He’s never been a follower when it comes to trends in toys or style. I’m not sure why they’re that way, but I have a feeling that kids whose parents give them approval cues about toys are the ones who will also look for that in friends. As we have never done it, if a friend questioned a toy choice, one of my children simply invited him/her to join in–and they did.

  8. avatar

    Sabrina

    It would help you all to know that children that the more gender-neutral a child is raised the better they are adapted as adults. Helping your children to see people in none-gender stereotyped roles helps them to see what they can be and to accept others who do not like the same things more easily.

    It doesn’t mean boys wear dresses, it means, boys can play with dolls and learn to be a caregiver for their future children and girls can have a career as anything they want as well. Gosh that would be an awful world.

    My cousin’s son loved to play with barbie in the tub and my girls both loved cars. My 13 year old daughter plays lax and loves her skateboard. They loved dolls too. Show them the world and let them decide what they like.

  9. avatar

    L, wonderful musings on your part. Thanks.

    Having raised five children, I don’t remember that we encouraged things one way or another. When they were very young, they tended to be more homogenistic in their interests, which were driven more by the media than anything else. Teddy Ruxpin, My Little Ponies, Care Bears, Smurfs, etc. What they wanted for Christmas was telling. The girls tended to want the usual girl things. The boys tended to want the usual boy things.

    My poor boys! I could hardly guide them through the stereotypical boy stuff, especially basketball. My shortest son is 6’4. I always wondered if I had been a jock and encouraged them they might be in the NBA now and I’d be comfortable in my impending old age. Well, I doubt that if I had encouraged basketball and tried to teach it to them, they’d be worse players rather than better. I’d never make a good coach. They were decent at it, but not NBA material and didn’t have the interest.

    I think you play it by ear, being careful to never shame a child for aesthetic choices. I played with Barbies. Paulette down the street not only had a complete Barbie set, she also had a play house big enough for several kids to sit in it and play with dolls. Loved it. I was the only boy. If my stepfather had caught me, there’d have been hell to pay.

    When I was a kid, I had two different aspirations for a career. My official party line when asked was that I wanted to be a lawyer. Secretly I wanted to be a choreographer. I faithfully watched The Carol Burnett Show and imagined how I’d choreograph the dance numbers by the June Taylor Dancers. Would have been great fun. Instead, I ended up a software engineer turned social worker. I’m clearly confused.