As we all know, once you buy something from a catalogue, your name and address is whooshed through the great Catalogue Mojo Machine and suddenly, you're on everyone's mailing list. This is particularly true for children's products, especially toys.
And, as we're all aware, once the gauntlet of Halloween falls, marking the official passage into the Holiday Season, toy manufacturers are quick to remind us that it is, once again, time to start shopping for our little munchkins.
Being an only-child parent of an only child, the majority of whose parent-friends live in other states, I actually don't mind the onslaught so much. My memories of toddlerhood are hazy and as such, I need a little help with ideas. And for this reason, I don't mind the bombardment by Fischer Price et al and quickly set to browsing through the pages to make my Santa List.
Being an unrepentant junkie for social politics, however, means that the Big Picture is never far from my mind, and as I flip through the glossy displays of multi-colored plastic wonders, the armchair pundit in me starts to grumble & twitch.
Now, as ever, gender politics is part of the national discourse. Whether it be reproductive rights, pay parity or child & health care policy decisions, this country is still in its adolescence in its treatment of men and women and the differences therein. Despite our ideals, we still struggle with the simple things, like division of household labor, for instance. One might not necessarily connect the dots between who does the vacuuming and whether women earn cents on men's dollars, but this failure of connection has meaning.
I don't intend to make some over-the-top claim that there's a directly causal relationship here, but I do mean to suggest a certain correlation that we benefit from being mindful of.
Browsing through these catalogues, the indoctrination into gender roles simply couldn't be more obvious. Train sets, race cars and erector sets are clearly placed in the boys section, are decorated with "masculine" colors, and are pictured in the raptured gaze of Handsome Father and Delighted Son. Conversely, toy kitchens, sewing machines and dolls are prominently featured in the girls section. Invariably decorated in some shade of pink, they're cooed over by pigtail sporting Little Ladies while Proud Mama smiles with approval. In some catalogues, the sections are so blatantly divided as to contain blue pages for boys, pink pages for girls. We all know the scene.
Nowhere in these pages do we find, say, a boy pushing a toy vacuum, or a girl cheering her Hot Wheels around a slick and windy racetrack. We don't find Dad attending a tea party or Mom helping out on the carpenter's horse. The lone spot of neutrality is sometimes found on the pages sporting video games, but even then, subject matter is still clearly divided along gender lines.
These are not revelations, to be sure. However, it's worth remembering while we, The Great Progressive Liberals, consider our holiday shopping this year. If we all agree that the "glass ceiling", for instance, is an insulting reality for our bright and powerful sisters, let's make sure that we don't inadvertently contribute to gender role indoctrination while stuffing Susie's stocking.
Instead, buy her the train set. Give Billy the toy blender. If Bobby wants a doll, give him one. Don't let his grandparents cluck their tongues and shoot you disapproving glances when sister Ashley squeals over her toy workbench. Dress her in pink only if she LIKES pink. Let her wear her brother's hand-me-downs and don't worry about whether or not there's a spare ribbon to put in her hair so as not to confuse folks at the mall.
By all means, get the Bubble Mower if your son wants it. Just make sure your daughter knows it's for her, too. Little efforts like this accumulate over the years, and help shape their perceptions of Who Does What. Wouldn't it be great if, by the time they encounter starkly defined gender roles as young adults, they're so alien to them as to be laughable. Then imagine the world such a generation will create.