So OK. Here’s the deal. There’s this tea set. It’s Fisher Price (a well known solid children’s brand) and it’s sweet and quite clever (as far as a tea set can be). The teapot makes noises like pouring water when it’s tilted. It also sings and talks, with an emphasis on manners (please, thank you, stuff like that). It comes with two cups and a plate with three cakes, each a different shape (a very basic shape sorter). We’ve got several friends who have this set and the boy LOVES it. He loves the noises it makes and in some kind of primeval way, he loves ‘making the tea’ (which is super weird as we don’t drink tea in our house and he’s certainly never seen a teapot in real use!). It’s gorgeous and clever and fun.
Oh yeah and it’s almost aggressively girly in it’s design.
Not only is it made in a traditionally female centric colour pallette, but check out the frills and flowers. It couldn’t be more clearly aimed at a female market than if it (and here come the generalisations girls) covered itself in chocolate and kittens.
But why is it?
My son is not the only boy I’ve seen playing with this set, or any other catering based toys for that matter, regardless of their colour or design.
And don’t we want our sons to be polite?
This set is called the “Fisher-Price Laugh & Learn Say Please Tea Set”. One of it’s features is to “teach babies about.. manners, greetings and more”. Surely this is a toy all children could enjoy – after all manners matter! So why is it so very very very obviously a girls toy?
Or is it? Should the colour and design make a blind bit of difference to who plays with it. Should it matter to me? It clearly doesn’t matter to him. He loves it, it’s a really well made, smart toy. Why should I even be having this conversation? Why I haven’t I bought it for him already?
The answer is I don’t know. Something has stopped me. The signals this toy sends out to me as a parent is that this is not for my child. I feel it. On every level. And I hate that I do. What am I worried about? That other parents will judge me? So what if they do.
I’m so confused and conflicted.
I’ve spent my life, not caring about gender stereotypes. I fit them when I choose to. I have friends who fit them and those who don’t. It never bothered me. Last summer I put Oscar in a fluorescent pink t-shirt. Being blonde, it looked fab on him.
But I know he and I got some questioning looks when he wore it out and one woman in the park felt the need to congratulate me on being brave! Its a colour for god sake. What’s brave about that. Its doesn’t MEAN anything. Does it?
I know the parents of little girls who totally don’t have this problem. Their daughters wear blue and have trains, cars, blocks and a whole host of traditionally “boys” toys. It doesn’t bother them and their girls love them. And I say hooray for that. Who the hell wants a daughter that grows up thinking the only way is Barbie? So why should it be difficult for me to put my mind into the place where buying Oscar a pink tea set, or a doll or any other traditionally “girls” toys is OK?
The honest answer is I have no idea. And that makes me just a little bit sad.
So anyway, back to the tea set. It’s annoying me for two reasons
1) Why on earth it needs to be so very obviously a “girls” toy
2) That it’s bothering me enough to write this
It’s his birthday soon and despite all the rationalising I’ve done both here and at home, I am still unsure as to whether to get it for him. I want him to grow up to be a great host, a caring father. Why then won’t I give him the tools to practice these skills the way we do our daughters?
What would you do?