Target recently came under fire for the “degenderfication” of their toy aisles. Instead of labeling toys specifically for girls and boys, the company made the (apparently) controversial decision that all the playthings would be in one section of the store and simply marked as “toys.”
And people freaked.
I was surprised about the backlash that Target received from their customers. Honestly, it didn’t seem like that big of a deal to me.
When I was a girl, I played with GI Joes and NERF guns and nobody told me that those toys were only for boys. I had the bucket of green army men that I would snipe with my BB gun, Batman curtains, a Darth Vader toothbrush and my collection of He-Man action figures were the envy of every kid in the neighborhood.
But then I realized: it’s not that people have a problem with little girls playing with Tonka trucks, it’s that they don’t like little boys playing with Barbies.
When girls want to climb trees, or play in the mud, or want to take karate, it’s fine. They’re “Tom boys.” It’s cute. But when a little boy wants to cook with an Easy Bake Oven or take ballet, he’s (at best) discouraged and (at worst) ridiculed.
As the mother of two boys, I admit that I too have been guilty of this, although I didn’t realize it until very recently.
Last week after I picked my 3-year-old son Ben up from school we stopped in that big thrift shop next to Fred’s in Liberty. I was looking for something specific, a casserole dish to replace the one I had broken the week before. I found my dish and then wandered over to the toy section to see if anything caught Ben’s eye.
And something did: a doll.
He picked it up and cradled it in his arms and whispered “baby!” in an excited voice. He hugged it. He gave it kisses on the forehead. He was fascinated that her eyes opened and closed as she was held up or laid down. He was sold.
I was not.
“Hey Ben, come look at the cool trucks!”
I tried to distract him, but he was not to be dissuaded. Somewhat embarrassed, I bought the doll. And then an awesome thing happened: as we were checking out, the woman running the register complimented Ben on his new doll. Then, as we were walking across the parking lot, we passed two older gentlemen who smiled at Ben and gave him a thumbs-up, all while Ben adoringly clutched his new doll to his chest.
When we got home, he couldn’t wait to show his new “baby” to his dad.
My husband, who is a “man’s man” if there ever was one, didn’t even bat an eye. “That’s awesome, Ben! What’s her name?”
It seemed the only person who was being weird about it was me.
It was a startling revelation. I’m all for marriage equality, affirmative action, women’s rights, you name it. I am the biggest tree-hugging liberal way out to the left you will ever meet and am literally a card-carrying member of the ACLU. So why did I have an issue with my son having a doll?
In short? Because I was being stupid. Very, very stupid.
Three months ago, Ben was thrown a complete curve ball by the arrival of a new baby, Sam. As much as I have made an effort to ensure Ben doesn’t feel excluded or replaced in any way by his new brother, tensions and jealousy issues were bound to arise.
The doll was a new way to cope. Now, when I change a diaper, Ben is right there pretending to change his doll. When I feed Sam a bottle, Ben sits next to me, proudly “feeding” his own baby. When Sam is fussy and I have to walk laps in the living room, bouncing him in my arms, Ben is right behind me, copying my every move.
It took a while, but I realized that I was wrong to think that boys shouldn’t play with dolls. Even if there hadn’t been a new baby in the house, I know now that if a doll is what Ben wants to play with instead of dinosaurs, who am I to say “no, those kinds of toys are only for girls.”
I would have been furious with my parents had I only been allowed to play with the gender specific My Little Ponies and Strawberry Shortcake dolls when I was a kid.
It’s an eye-opening experience when a 3-year-old teaches you a life lesson and by the power of Greyskull, it’s one I’ve taken to heart.
Kasie Strickland is a staff writer for The Easley Progress, The Pickens Sentinel and Powdersville Post and can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. Views expressed in this column are those of the writer only and do not represent the newspaper’s opinion.