Published at Vancouver Observer.
It’s almost that time of year again. The time to show your loved ones how much you care for them (or, how much money you’re willing to spend on them) with the perfect Christmas presents.
When it comes to shopping for children though, one Christmas catalogue from Swedish company TOP-TOY might make you rethink your gift plans. In their 2012 catalogue, girls take aim with Nerf guns, boys experiment with hairdressing toys, and girls and boys play with an infant doll — together.
Did you hear that? That was the sound of conservatives the world over getting their knickers in a twist.
As TOP-TOY, parent company to the Swedish Toys ‘R’ Us, write on their website, “This year’s catalogue is more gender neutral to reflect the values of the Swedish market. Swedish customers appreciate this new approach.”
“The gender debate in Sweden has become more significant in the last couple of years. TOP-TOY has been following the debate and wants to reflect these values in our markets and mirror the modern way of children’s play.”
Of course, the company’s approach has been dealing with its fair share of criticism over the past few days. Thomas Pascoe stated in the Telegraph that, “No boy grows up dreaming of being a princess. [And] I find it hard to believe many little girls grow up wanting to shoot people.”
With all due respect, Mr. Pascoe and TOP-TOY’s other critics do not know the innermost desires of every kid on earth. As a child, I’m pretty sure I daydreamed about liquidating my perceived enemies more often than I dreamed of princess-dom. Whether that’s healthy or not is fodder for a different article.
Sure, I had a Barbie collection that I treasured for probably too long a length of time, and my fair share of glimmery, plushie, and sparkly trash. However, I also loved playing make-believe with my older brother’s action figures. I whined aloud when he’d force me to be the Batman to his Bane, but secretly, I didn’t mind at all. Batman is awesome, and I didn’t (and don’t) need testicles to appreciate that.
My experiences in the girl’s section of the local toy store were not always happy. As my eyes would gloss over, staring up at row upon row of plastic boxes, it sometimes felt like I was seeing myself and my friends in those boxes — all us little girls pinned to the inside of hot pink parametres which, although flimsy and innocuous from the looks of them, are surprisingly difficult to break open once sealed. (Have you ever pried out a new Barbie? Just try doing it without almost slicing your finger on its ridiculous fuchsia casket.)
The thing is, the genderization of children doesn’t feel as natural when you’re a child as when you’re an adult, already years beyond that initial social and cultural conditioning. It does take getting used to.
Currently being passed around Tumblr is a tweet by Illinois resident Steve Bowler. In the tweet is this photo of a school assignment his third-grader daughter had failed, as well as his caption: “Proud my 8yo girl failed this worksheet. Wish she had failed it even ‘worse.’ #GenderBias”