Ballerinos

Before I had children, I believed that gender was a construction and that the ways in which boys and girls relate to the world, design their play, react to stimuli, and spend their growth energies had more to do with nurture than nature.

Boys, I knew, could play with dolls and nurture just as girls could play with trucks and be rough and loud and scatalogically amused. These are equally true of men and women.

My first son bore out this hypothesis, adoring ladybugs and glitter, talking incessantly, and nursing his dolls.

My second son tends toward trucks, physical over verbal games, and enjoys rough play way more than I ever thought possible.

They both like pink, dancing, and music, though. So we spend a fair number of hours leaping around the living room. For science.

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Yesterday both boys had earned new ballet slippers (by growing, not by any particular behavior; I’m trying not to base our family’s existence around rewards and discipline) and put on their leotards for a dance party. After I helped the little guy into his, I went to the kitchen to get something and heard:

“Now that you have your leotard on, try to hit me.”

I reminded everyone that dancing in our house means hands to yourself. (I’m thinking very clearly with every parenting choice about the rules we’ll have in high school, so dancing with hands to yourself starts now, with your brother. Otherwise, Kevin Bacon wins.)

“Okay okay, okay,” my oldest reassured me.
“Butter. Use your ballet slippers to try to kick me.”

I’ve spent a lot of time during my life with a lot of ballerinas, from tiny rec center trainees to honest-to-goodness professional metropolitan company members. And I have heard a lot of sentences begin with “Now that you have your leotard on…” and “Use your ballet slippers to try to…” but these particular hitting and kicking constructions are new to me.

Let me note the obvious caveat about sample size and repeatability of results. None of this is enough for an actual hypothesis yet.

But the evidence is leaning me toward a “ballerinos are an entirely different group of artists” theory.

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1950s rap

Toyota has a viral youtube campaign for their minivan that they think is ever so clever.

I think it’s painfully backward.

In the lengthy ads, a very white middle class heterosexual family expounds on how cool they are in their minivan, which Dad has dubbed the Swagger Wagon. In the most recent ad, the family sings a rap about said vehicle.

How delightful, no?

No.

In the song, Dad boasts how he participates and subverts gender stereotypes by having tea parties with his daughter and her dolls. Mom sings about how facile she is with jello and cupcakes, how she tends the kids’ wounds. While Dad mugs and poses in the van, Mom handles the lunch, the school play, and the song’s bridge—a potty break for their eldest.

Is this rap written for a 1950s audience? (The black and white images are a clue.) Why is Dad helping only with the tea party and nothing else? Why is Mom defined by her baking skills, her cheerleading costume, and her self definition as a former “college chick”?

One of the most difficult transitions for progressive couples who become parents is the reality of how even 50/50 marriages become 90/10 marriages when kids are thrown into the mix. The sheer volume of work mothers do, and the fact that it tends to be time sensitive, repetitive work (meals, tidying, errands, school) contrasts with the paucity of work inside the home most fathers do (and the fact that it tends to be ‘get to it when you can’ weekend, one-time, big project work). And the new division of labor causes marital strife.

Is that what you celebrate in your silly minivan ads? That families can fight in the front seat while the wee ones sit with headphones and DVD players in the back, oblivious to the real work of being a family…the day to day bickering over details, like the fact that I’ll be damned if I’m ever defined by how my baked goods perform at the school bake sale or refer to any of the years I busted my ass in higher ed as the days when I was a college chick.

Thanks for the stereotypes, Toyota. Sure makes me think less about your cars driving unintentionally into oncoming traffic.

I’m really peeved at Melissa and Doug

I usually like the toy makers over at Melissa and Doug. They’re all wooden and edutainment-y, and I like that.

But today I’m heart-poundingly, strongly-worded-letter-y pissed.

Grandma brought Peanut a cool magnetic dress-up Joey doll. Peanut loves the doll. I love the doll. So I figured I’d get him the female version, too.

Uh-oh. Not just gender-assigned, not just gender-stereotyped, but gender-disgusting.

The Joey doll gets to be a firefighter, police officer, knight, superhero, construction worker, and a pirate. Stereotyped, sure, but not totally offensive, provided there is a female doll with the same choices, too.

Well, the Maggie doll lets you choose between “cute” outfit and “attractive” outfit. Period. Revolutionary choice of skirts or pants. No career garb. No uniforms. Nothing she could wear to a world where they value her for her mind. But she sure is purdy.

The Nina doll is all different ballerina costumes. The Princess doll is too disgusting to discuss here. Use your imagination. Now add more ruffles and glitter.

I’m genuinely pissed. My son happened to catch a glimpse of baseball on tv a few months ago, and asked where the ladies were. I told him I wasn’t sure, but we’d turn the channel until we saw some. So we watched billiards for a while. Then poker. ‘Cuz in those worlds, women and men seem a little more equal.

Are you freaking kidding me with dolls like this? Why can’t the Joey doll come in a female version? There are firefighter and police officer and construction worker women. Why not add a garbage truck driver and an executive, because women do that, too. Sure she can be a princess. Can’t each set have real career choices, including princess? (Oh, what? Like pirate is a viable career choice outside Somalia? And knight is a monster.com pull-down option? Each set could have some realistic and some unrealistic jobs. I want a set with a professor, a lawyer, a doctor, and a comedia delle arte harlequino. I guess we’ll have to learn to carve our own.)

I’m going to go write to Melissa and Doug. If you care what your daughters and sons know about life, I urge you to do the same. Tell me when you find a girl doll who dresses up as something other than a princess or a beauty object. ‘Cuz I’ll buy her doll. And more for gifts. I mean, hell, even Barbie got a job every once in a token while.

Melissa and Doug, shame on you. This is not 1909. The only choices are not mom or princess; policeman or fireman. I’m not teaching my son that, because it’s not reality. And I’m not teaching girls that, because it’s not reality. There was a motherf–king woman running for President this year, y’all, and all we get is princess and dresses? F— you. I’m buying Plan Toys this year.

Btw, where is the black Joey doll? And the Latino/a and the Asian? I know that shouldn’t be a “by the way” question, but I’m too pissed to rank my equality priorities right now. I want it all.