Here’s my 4 year old daughter talking about how kids at preschool teased her for wearing “boy” shoes. A group of them wouldn’t let her enter the “train hole,” a play structure shaped like a train, because she was wearing her Star Wars shoes.
After my daughter told me about the teasing, which happened more than once, I spoke to her teacher who then talked with the kids about how anyone can wear any kind of shoe they like.
The bullying that happened to my daughter occurs in schools every day, and we all need to be doing more to stop it. Instead, we’re exacerbating it by buying into gender marketing sold to us by multi-national media companies and chain stores.
A couple of years ago, there was a story about a first grader who brought her Star Wars lunch box to school, and she was teased. That story got some media attention, but it seems like too many people think that incident was some kind of anomaly, have forgotten about it, or still haven’t realized how damaging and limiting it is for kids when we gender stereotype them.
Whenever I blog or speak about gender segregating kids, I get the argument that it’s just “natural,” and if your kid happens to be the rare exception, she can “choose” another toy or T shirt if she wants. (Here I am recently responding to those arguments on Fox News but they are all over this blog as well.) How many kids have the courage to be the “exception?” And why has straying from pink or princess become an exception? How long until my daughter starts “choosing” the shoes that she’s supposed to wear and like, shoes that she doesn’t get teased for wearing? I’m stating what should be obvious here: When one type of product is aggressively marketed to boys, and another type to girls kids don’t have a choice.
Due to a campaign in Europe by Let Toys Be Toys For Girls and Boys, stores in Europe including Toys R us, stopped segregating products by gender, and instead, are organizing them by type. Here’s what Toys Will Be Toys reported on Toys R Us.
The retailer today confirmed that they would draw up a set of principles for in-store signage meaning that, in the long-term, explicit references to gender will be removed and images will show boys and girls enjoying the same toys. They promised to start by looking at the way toys are represented in their upcoming Christmas catalogue.
This is great news for Europe, but go to any Target or Stride Rite in America, and you’ll see how far this country lags behind. Pinkwashed sections of stores marked for girls offer Barbies, dolls, and anything pink, princessy, or sparkly while areas marked for boys sell products in primary colors that have something to do with cars or superheroes. A U.S. organization called A Mighty Girl has started a similar petition in the U.S. to the Let Toys Be Toys petition in Europe, hoping to stop stores here from selling kids gender segregation.
Mass marketing by gender is changing how we see each other and the world around us. On the Huffington Post, Lori Day writes:
I was talking to a teacher friend recently who said that 10 or 15 years ago, if she asked her Kindergarten class what their favorite colors were, she heard many different answers. Now, she still hears the boys name many different colors, but the girls almost all say pink…
There are so many colors in the rainbow. Kids should get exposed to all of them. Please sign A Mighty Girl’s petition.