Another piece about gender-policing. A little girl goes to school with an Avengers backpack with four Avenger guys on it, avenging. A little boy asks her if it’s her brother’s backpack.
Back-to-school shopping is one of those moments in which the power of consumer-culture to shape our ideas about gender springs into focus. As parents, with or without our kids’ input, we make choices that shape their entry into new social contexts. We tell them what is “normal.” We set them up to fit in or stand out. And the choices, for parents and children alike, can be overwhelming.
This year, my daughter got an Avengers’ backpack featuring four male superheroes. There was no option with Black Widow, the lone female Avenger in the recent movie, which is pretty typical of the way comic-book companies fail to display gender diversity in their merchandising. Still, it’s a pretty awesome backpack, and she loves it. While we didn’t pick it for Ellie, we did try to subtly influence her away from the stereotypical girlie choices. Here’s why.
Michael isn’t a bad kid. He’s just unconsciously projecting our society’s gender norms onto his classmate, my daughter. Given enough time and unchallenged exposure to this kind of sentiment, it’s possible that Ellie would do the same thing. The cultural pressures to promote a rigid separation of genders start at birth, when a newborn gets a pink or blue hat. They continue for life. The toys, clothes and decorations designed for boys promote action, sports and often violent heroism. Boys are doers, they imply. Baby girls are to be looked at.
I had a lot of “boy” toys as a kid, because I asked for them. I also had (because I asked for them) dolls, a little tea set, a toy stove. I don’t remember ever mashing them up though. That would have been quite good – having a dolls’ tea party with guns and cowboy hats. I wasn’t imaginative enough…