With the lighting of the first Hanukkah candle tonight, the annual gift-giving holiday season officially begins, not to end until Kwanza arrives one day after Christmas. Our material world seemingly knows no bounds.
I’m no innocent in this gorgefest of trinkets, toys and trifles. I have a primal need to acquire, though I must say that since retirement I have vastly curtailed my personal material gluttony. I used to enjoy visiting stores not just because it was part of my job but also because I would go on a quest to find something to indulge my desires. Now I mostly relieve my bank account of extra cash by buying “stuff” for our kids and their mates, our grandchildren, grand nieces and grand nephews.
We overindulge Finley and Dagny, buying eight days’ worth of presents for each for Hanukkah. To be honest, it’s a lot easier choosing presents—clothing aside— for four-year-old Finley than 17-month-old Dagny. Aside from buying for the second child who already has access to Finley’s stash of goods, it’s tough tiptoeing through the minefield of gender neutrality when it comes to toys for a young girl.
If you haven't been following it, most recently spurred by Goldieblox’s controversial use of a parody of the Beastie Boys song “Girls” (http://artsbeat.blogs.nytimes.com/2013/11/27/toy-company-pulls-beastie-boys-song-from-viral-video/), there's been quite a lively discussion on gender neutrality when raising a child. It's part of the overall debate on whether environment or heredity has more sway in a child's development. Last December, The NY Times ran an Op-Ed piece on gender-based toy marketing (http://www.nytimes.com/2012/12/23/opinion/sunday/gender-based-toy-marketing-returns.html?_r=0), followed by an interesting Letter to the Editor from a woman from Tarpon Springs, FL, which I will reproduce here:
“I once thought that biological gender preferences were ‘ridiculous’ until I raised a girl and a boy born in 1983 and 1990, respectively. I raised my children — to the best of my feminist knowledge — without stereotypes and with a minimum of television.
“But as a toddler, my daughter would mostly ignore the cars and trucks and spend hours with the dolls, while my son, seven years later, would discard within minutes his sister’s leftover dolls and find the cars and trucks — and most disconcertingly, form a gun with his pointer and thumb and shoot at things. His drive for toy guns, swords and light sabers knew no bounds, yet he has always been sweet and gentle.
“The fact that toy marketers tap into biological preferences does not necessarily mean that we are being pushed back into an ‘unequal past’ or homophobia or ‘gender conformity.’
Our experience in raising Ellie parallels the author’s. Gilda was determined to avoid imprinting any feminist mystique into Ellie’s brain. She’d be raised as gender neutral as we could. No Cinderella or Sleeping Beauty stories for her, nothing to suggest that it would take a Prince Charming to fulfill her destiny. Ellie could play with any of her older brother’s toys, be they trucks or blocks, balls or Legos. She would not be given dolls, for sure no Barbies.
Ellie did play with Dan’s toys, but it was obvious to Gilda’s friends she lacked a certain joie de vivre. At Ellie’s third birthday they took matters into their own hands, bestowing on her a torrent of dolls and frilly accessories. Ellie immediately transformed into a happy princess.