Before having kids, I had always wondered whether gender roles were more nature or the product of Disney’s Marketing Department. Then I found out I was pregnant with a girl and launched my own personal revolt against all things pink and princess. Screw Snow White and the dwarves she rode in on! Toy marketers would not get their sexist hands on my child. Yes, I marched into Skye’s nursery waving an anti-Cinderella flag with one hand and decorating her room with lovely-yet-gender-neutral green and yellow dragonfly bedding with the other (talented, aren’t I?). Mr. Candy and I also filled her toy chest with a well-balanced diet of dolls and race cars, sports gear and tea party sets.
Fast-forward more than two years later and what is Skye’s favorite color? Pink. What kind of cup did she request yesterday? Oh yes, a princess one. “Don’t you want the Buzz and Woody cup instead?” I suggested hopefully, knowing how much she enjoys the Toy Story trilogy. “No. PRINCESS!” my daughter declared unequivocally. Her dolls have been lovingly diapered and swaddled a thousand times over, while the cars have since settled to the bottom of the chest, having been briefly played with then cast aside in favor of tea parties. The balls we bought do get thrown and kicked, but sometimes…? They also get swaddled and carried around like a baby, I KID YOU NOT. I show her a sports team track suit, a gift from an aunt and uncle hoping to brainwash her into becoming a Philly fan, and she scrunches her little two-year-old nose. “I want to wear a dress,” she says. “Pink one!”
You hear that? That’s the sound of my anti-Cinderella flag drooping in defeat.
My unofficial gender-based behavior study became even more interesting when I gave birth to my son ten months ago. From almost the minute he was born, people would come up to me and say, “He’s all boy!” As opposed to, you know, one-eighth boy. Seriously, if I had a dollar for every time someone said that to me, well, I would have at least twelve dollars.
I assume they mean he looks like a boy, which is true. Not a single person has ever mistaken Drew for a girl, or has even had to ask, as opposed to poor Miss Skye who, for the first year of her life, would have people come up and gush, “Why, isn’t HE just precious!” even if I had stamped “GIRL” on her forehead in hot pink letters. “Yes, SHE is!” I would respond pointedly, directing their attention to the stamp and the, uh, RUFFLED DRESS SHE WAS WEARING.
I know, I know; I shouldn’t be sexist. Boys can wear ruffled dresses and hot pink “GIRL” stamps, too. But I’m pretty sure if I did that to Drew, he would rip the ruffles off with his bare hands and eat them for breakfast (don’t worry, he’s on solids now) and scrape the stamp off with a pocket knife.* Because not only is Drew “all (stereotypical) boy” in his looks, but in his behavior as well. Even at ten months old, this much is obvious. With Skye, we barely had to baby-proof the home or worry about her venturing into danger because she was always too busy diapering her pink princess dolls. Which leads me to take back everything I’ve ever said about princesses: THEY ARE AWESOME. Drew, on the other hand, can barely stand on his own yet is already attempting to climb the stairs and infiltrate the media cabinet. I try to snuggle with him, but after 10 seconds he is reaching for the floor in hopes of finding something to pound with his fist. Hard. I hand him Molly, one of Skye’s dolls, and he throws her on the ground over and over again with increasing intensity — most likely to see if he can get Molly’s head to explode upon contact. I dump a variety of toys on the floor, including stuffed animals and toy kitchen utensils and a truck, and I swear he makes a beeline for the truck and uses it to crush Elmo’s head and — this is the kicker — laughs when he sees Elmo’s flattened face.
New product opportunity for the “all boy” market: Flatten-Me Elmo! (Sure to also be a hit with the “Elmo-weary parents” market, no doubt.)
My point being this: in the nature versus nurture debate, nature has a way of sneaking in there and demanding a princess cup. And, although I will continue to encourage my girly-girl and “all boy” to push back against gender stereotypes, if my daughter finds pleasure in baking cookies in her kitchen, more power to her. At least somebody in this house knows what the inside of an oven looks like.
*To those concerned, I should note: We didn’t let him play with knives until he demonstrated he could handle a machete when he turned six months old, as most pediatricians recommend. Better safe than sorry!