I have a two-and-a-half year-old daughter, so there are two angry utterances you are likely to hear nearly every day at our house: “Time OUT” and “Go home, Pottery Barn Kids, YOU ARE DRUNK.”
The latter of these two responses is due in no small part to the fact that buying some Very Hungry Caterpillar bedding has apparently landed me on a very special list at Pottery Barn Kids corporate under the heading “SEND 14 CATALOGUES EVERY DAMN DAY.”
But it’s also due to the fact that Pottery Barn Kids is absolutely unapologetic in their gender-biased marketing. They shamelessly label everything “for girls” or “for boys.” Their girls accessories and toys are so frothy and butterfly-laden that browsing their website, catalog or store is like standing in the thick of the great Monarch migration with pink cotton candy being jammed down your gullet by a rabid ballerina.
And, as is the case with most toy retailers, girls are marketed dolls, tea sets, ironing boards, and ovens. Everything is pink and purple, with some mint green or lemon chiffon yellow thrown in, if you’re lucky. Boys are sold educational toys and superhero sheets – everything in vibrant blues and oranges and greens. I’ve toyed with the idea of going on a Pottery Barn Kids girl-power rampage in many a blog post, but know that gender-biased marketing to children is old news. We’ve all talked princess complexes until we’re pink in the face. And then this week I thought about it from a different angle.
Gender-neutrality is all over the news: Washington State is looking at the neutrality of the language in state laws. Boston University and the University of Florida announced plans to explore options for gender-neutral campus housing. And, in case you missed it in the holiday crush, Hasbro recently announced that it will release a gender-neutral Easy Bake Oven on the heels of a successful Change.org petition brought by a young woman who wanted to buy an oven for her little brother…just not one in purple. It got me thinking: this is great news and good for her. But what if there is some boy out there who did want a purple oven? It would be a thing. Even in 2013, it would be A. Thing.
Having a littler girl and a cosmetic-shoe-bag-fetish and powerful feminist Spidey senses, I’ve spent hours worrying and wondering over how to help her have a more moderate experience in forced girl-i-tude. Her room is yellow. She has a vet kit. She has purple leggings but, also, a fierce collection of superhero t-shirts (WITH capes). She got her first baby doll this Christmas. Last Christmas she got a Batman race track. I wonder how much attention I would’ve paid to all of this if she had been a baby boy?
Would I have made sure he wore pink star-spangled sweatshirts with his Toughskins?
Would I have bought him a baby doll before a dinosaur puzzle? Would I make sure there were bows and butterflies on alternating days with blood and guts? Would I shake my fist that there weren’t more “life skill” toys in the so-called Boys’ Aisle? Vacuums and ovens and grooming kits?
We’ve spent so much time–and, don’t get me wrong, it’s time well-spent–making sure our girls can play with/wear/use “boy” things without indictment, that we forgot about the little boys who get picked on for playing Barbie or wearing ruby slippers. Even Pottery Barn Kids’ website features toys that headline the boys section (planetariums, toolkits, golf clubs) in the girls’ toys, albeit on the very bottom of Page 2. Check the boys’ section, though, and you’ll find only a few cross-overs in play food and play kitchens. None of the dolls. None of the pink and purple stuff. They only opened the door one way, because they know full well we’re just not there yet.
If we want marketing and opportunity and play to be wide open for our girls, we have to work toward the same end for boys. If we could let the boys who want them have purple Easy Bake Ovens and wear pink pants if they damn well feel like it, then we can say we came a long way [for the], baby[ies].