Raising Slightly Less Gendered Kids in a Gendered World. (And realize when I say “gender” I’m not referring to biology, but to culture. There’s nothing in the DNA that says girls will play with pink toys.)

A trip to the toy store today ended with toys in the trunk.

Aside: Do you know who Mister Dressup is? I try to explain him to Americans and they stop listening when I say “Tickle Trunk” .

Adrian has an older sister. And he has parents who rarely buy toys. This means that he ends up playing mostly with his older sister’s toys.

We’re all progressive and stuff, so it’s not like Erin’s room is full of Barbies and Disney Princesses and pink, but…hell, there are some Barbies and Disney Princess things in there. How did they get there?


Adrian plays with Erin’s toys, and these toys include Barbies and Disney Princesses. But the dude is obsessed with cars. Cars! It makes no sense to me. I’m not a car guy. There are only about three things in the house that look anything like a car and one of those is a boat and another is a bus. But he seeks out cars (and trucks) like a junkie on the prowl. And he has a screech.

Kaw!! Kaaawww!!!!!” He is a loud screecher, and never louder than when he spots the one car in the house. Or the bus. Or the boat.


We went to the toy store after getting Adrian’s hair cut today. Erin and Adrian played at the train table while Emily and I tried to figure out what to buy them.

Aside: Do you know that one of those train tables, the Thomas the Tank Engine brand, costs $300?? And that it doesn’t include the table part where you actually set up the trains? That is an extra $80. The non-Thomas knockoff table is $200, plus center piece. I am completely floored by this. It’s a table. Why in the hell would you pay $380 for a table that doesn’t even include the goddamned toys???? Why would you pay $300 for a table with a big hole in the middle just to pay $80 for the middle, separately? Whatever.

In the end, knowing Adrian loses his mind over cars and trucks we bought him a dump truck. It’s big. It’s plastic. It has good wheels that won’t fall off after the third time down the hallway. We feel weird about it. Like we should be pushing him toward Barbies or Disney Princesses or something because maybe the reason wars happen is because boys play with trucks.

It was also time to get a lunchbox for him. He’s moving up a class in the daycare and since he’s not in the baby room anymore

Aside: Holy crap. He’s not in the baby room anymore. He’s not a baby anymore. Despite what Emily says he’s not a baby anymore. He runs around the house and screeches “Kaw!!!” at things and he begs for food when I’m cooking and he plays on his own and he tries to make a break for it out the door so he can run down the street to the park.

he needs a lunchbox. When we got to the lunchbox area of the store he of course pointed to the one with the trucks and trains on it and screeched “Kaw!!!” and I considered that a trumping of Emily’s choice of the pirate-themed lunchbox, which seemed to her more gender-neutral. Girls love pirates too.

Erin needed a toy too. Because as every parent knows the Third Parenting Commandment reads: Thou shall not buy a toy for one without getting a toy for the other.

When Emily took Erin around the store to pick one out they ended up in the costume/dressup section (Seriously, do you know who Mister Dressup is?) Erin looked around briefly and then asked her mother “Where is Sleeping Beauty?” Emily promptly countered with “Hey! Look! A doctor’s kit!”

And so the toys in the trunk were a dump truck and a doctor’s kit.

We’re not perfectly consistent, but I think we’re inconsistent on the side of the line that leans toward equality. Eventually.

Or so we like to tell ourselves.

Seriously. How did the Barbie get here?

31 thoughts on “Raising Slightly Less Gendered Kids in a Gendered World. (And realize when I say “gender” I’m not referring to biology, but to culture. There’s nothing in the DNA that says girls will play with pink toys.)”

  1. With our bug-collecting, lizard-loving worm-hunter of a first-born (girl) it was a lot easier not to feel guilty about buying her something pink and frilly if she asked for it.
    With our wheels-and-motor obsessed little boy, I sometimes feel like I should encourage other toys. Because it's so stereotypical. But then again, he truly adores all things wheel-ed.

  2. I have 3 girls and one boy, while my boy loves his trucks/cars/pirates/superheroes, he will happily play with one of his sisters' Barbie dolls or cook at the very girlie toy kitchen. My girls ALL play with trucks and play in the dirt. I wonder if that all means that I'm actually doing ok at this parenting gig?

  3. Not only do I know who Mister Dressup is (and Casey and Finnegan) but I have 8 hours of VHS tape with him, I wanted my kids to experience him when they were little and now my grandkids watch him.

    Wish I had gotten some Friendly Giant tho.

  4. My son has been car/truck/train obsessed his whole short life. He also wanted a tutu when we were at Costco over the weekend and loves all movies that involve princesses and fairies. He is almost 4. These days of being so completely themselves, with as little pressure from us/society to gender identify as possible, short of the clothes we buy him, are so fleeting. If he likes trucks and cars, let him have them. If I was ready to spend $15 on a tutu Saturday, he would have a tutu. Maybe I will just have to make one.

  5. Ok so I know who Mr. Dressup is but considering that I was born on the same side of the 49th parralel as you albiet at the other end and in another era………….but I digress. Hair Two was also born with wheels on the brain. First word = BIKE!!!!! First sentence = RIDE MY BIKE!!!! Current Obsession = Building a foam pit to jump his BIKE(S) into. Good Luck with cars :-D

  6. I grew up in northern MN, 10 miles from the Canadian border, so I am an American who knows (& loved to watch) Mr. Dressup. We would get tv stations from Winnipeg & US, so I would watch Sesame Street twice a day, once with Spanish numbers & letters, & then an hour or so later, the same episode only with French numbers & letters. Too bad I don't speak either of those languages today. = (

  7. I was a teenager when Mr. Dressup died, but I still cried. Seriously. Most amazing kids' show ever. I wonder if there are DVDs…

  8. I have a son who will get @ 800 legos that are small enough to hurt like the dickens when you step on them in the middle of the night. That pink box (we have the blue set box somewhere) is filled with a mixture consisting of pink and blue pieces (flowers and all) whenever my daughter decides she's to big for them or whenever he beats the daylights out of her enough for her to surrender them. He's 20 months and it's gonna be really soon! Just yesterday she built this extravagant house to which he promptly came over grabbed half of it and stepped on the other part. My husband told him your sister is going to be upset with you and he replied "I know" and laughed.

  9. My son LOVES cars! But he'll also happily sit through a Strawberry Shortcake video, and his favorite color is deep purple. I figure kids like what they like. I don't think this early age is as dangerous about imposing gender roles as the 'tween era. The whole radio Disney franchise just pisses me off.

  10. When I first began doing childcare, I was firmly convinced that boys and girls are born the same, it's society that makes them gender-different. However, after 30 years of working with and observing children, as well as doing my final research paper for my degree on gender differences, I've come to the conclusion that boys are boys, and they (mostly) have their male interests, and girls are girls and they also (mostly) have their female interests.

  11. I loved to watch Mr. Dressup draw a picture, he started with a circle and then just added a line here and there and wa la a thirty piece orchestra. He made me think I could draw anything, I can't.

  12. Okay, are you Canadian or something? Only Canadians know about Mr. Dressup. His was my favorite show as a kid (along with The Friendly Giant and Romper Room). Anyways…

    I wanted to do the whole gender neutral thing, but my in-laws pushed the boy toys on him. Granted, he knows his own mind and plays with what he wants. Today, his favorite toy was a pink unicorn. He also has a mermaid barbie he loves. But he loves the boy stuff… cars, dinosaurs, spiderman. Maybe it's all about personality…

  13. Mister who???

    I highly recommend Lise Eliot's book Pink Brain, Blue Brain: How Small Differences Grow Into Troublesome Gaps — And What We Can Do about It. I believe she's a neurobiologist? I wouldn't recommend it to everyone just because I find her stuff to be a lot like…well, school reading, I guess. Which is a point in her favor for me, but it's not everybody's cup of tea. It's been a while since I read it, and I have new-parent exhausto-brain, but basically the book is a survey of all relevant studies into biology and gender and/or sex differences. She finds very little evidence of difference, but there are a few things that develop at different rates in young boys vs. young girls, which society then exacerbates. (I should not here that she's very clear that there are larger differences within the sexes than between them; she's definitely not one of those evolutionary biologists who want to assign all of our culture's baggage to biology.)

    Although it's mostly descriptions of scientific studies, she does have great lists at the end of each chapter outlining how parents might help their children overcome the few sex-based differences that can potentially develop. She also discusses the intense gendering that young school-age kids go through as a part of their self-definition (helloooo pink princess junk).

    The one example I can remember from the book is this: Since girls as a group tend to start out with a stronger social orientation, their play – again, this is as a group and individual mileage may vary – will tend to highlight social interaction; since boys as a group tend to have an advantage in one single aspect of spatial thinking, they often gravitate towards items they can manipulate. So for a girl child whose emphasis is on social play, perhaps you can leverage a love for pink to buy her a pink hammer; and for a boy whose emphasis is on spatial play, stuffed animals can provide social-play opportunities.

    I'm probably not doing this justice. Like I said, I strongly recommend the book to anybody who's made it through graduate coursework, and tentatively recommend it to everybody else.

  14. I not only know who Mr. Dressup is, but actually took my oldest daughter, Kaylee, to see him LIVE and in person (she was about five). It was in Moncton in the early '90's, and I had as much fun as she did! Mr. Dressup was cracking jokes about the GST!

    Thomas the Tank Engine stuff is crazy-expensive! The last time she was over, Kaylee (who is now the mom of my year-old granddaughter) proudly showed me two engines they got "free" with a coupon from Toys 'R' Us…the regular price on them was $30! Why???!!!

    As the mom of three girls, I always told them there was no such thing as "girl toys" or "boy toys."

    Here's a post I did about the whole "girly things" stereotype:



  15. So, we live in Washington in a city about 30 min from the Canadian border. Meaning if you don't have cable (which neither my husband or I did when we were kids) you watch Canadian TV from B.C. for the most part other than FOX. My husband TOTALLY watched Mister Dressup as a kid, and recently he tried to show me a clip. That marionette was so freaking creepy. The whole concept just sounds so strange, but he was way into it as a kid.

  16. Yes, I know who Mr. Dressup is! He is gay!!!! There are 2 public Canadian stations where I live.

  17. What I find really disturbing is the way that parents often (but not always) skew their decisions based upon gender.

    For example, many dads I know think absolutely nothing of letting, nay encouraging, their little (much too young) boys to play ultra-violent Xbox games. These dads beam with pride over their sons' kill-shot abilities. But would any of them consider for a moment to encourage the same (ghastl) play with their little girls? Nope, boys should be hyper-vigilant weapons-masters doling out harshly-lethal punishments to bad dudes and girls should be princesses serving tea to a docile, fluffy horde..

    That scares the crap outta me!

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