|Girls like purses because they used bags to gather berries.|
It was an offhand remark in the conference, and I didn't address it at the time because it seemed like a derail, but the more I think about it, the more it sticks in my craw. How dare this guy not know how early this messaging starts? Before babies are even born we're talking about them in terms of their gender, buying pink blankets for girl babies and blue blankets for boys, as though the baby zirself will be confused as to what their genitals look like if they don't have the label of a blanket. That may seem like a small thing, coloured baby blankets, but they are illustrative of the way we treat humans differently based on whatever colour blanket they were born into (whether they fit in it or not). Because there is makeup for babies, and because makeup for babies is almost not even the most egregious example of this kind of shockingly early gender manipulation. Makeup! For babies!
Here to tell us more is AlphaParent:
This may sound like a sensationalist overreaction on my part; these products are aimed at babies after all, and babies have no concept of gender, let alone objectification. However it is the introduction of beauty paraphernalia into the baby’s everyday world, its familiarization and indoctrination at an unconscious involuntary level that enables these toys to set the foundation for such issues. Even before their first birthday babies can assimilate messages presented to them. Psychologists have discovered that babies know, explore, observe, and learn more than we would have ever thought possible. In some ways they are smarter than adults. Several studies show that even the youngest children have sophisticated and powerful learning abilities (Gopnik. A).Read the whole post to see an alarmingly huge and still-perfunctory list of a bunch of highly gendered toys for children under the age of three, for both boys and girls. Overwhelmingly, the message is that boys make things ("My First Toolbox") and girls buy the things that boys make and look pretty while doing it.
Toys and messages like this work in a few different ways. First, of course, there's the simple fact of teaching a child that she's for looking at, or he's for building things, and that there are no other options for gender, and few others for how that gender presents (a girl can also be for cleaning or cooking! Boys could shoot things! Choices to choose from!). As AlphaParent points out, young children learn things early, and are capable of assimilating messages far more complex than these ones.
Secondly it reveals the belief that these are interests innate to children because of their gender. That toys for children under the age of one would be so strongly gendered highlights the fact that toymakers thinks there is something about being a girl which biologically or evolutionarily (ugh, ick) dictates her preference for pink, for sparkles, and for any and all aspects of domesticity. Companies like Hasbro believe - or pander to the belief, and I don't think it matters which - that girls are fundamentally designed for housework and baby-raising, and boys are designed for active adventures and building and destroying things.
These toys work the same way all pop culture works: it simultaneously illustrates and reinforces underlying social messages. Parents learn to put their female babies in pink (my father had my ears pierced at about 6 weeks - an Italian tradition, at least in our family, but also, by his own admission, a way to make sure people knew I was a girl), so that strangers know to call her beautiful, or their boy babies in blue so strangers know to call him strong. Toy companies didn't create the gender dynamic, but they insist on its relevance and accuracy, thereby perpetuating and legitimizing age-old tropes of gender essentialism. Those tropes stay with children all their lives, as they do with us all, and are used to justify the status quo which systematically offers men and boys greater and more meaningful choices and opportunities, and which situates male power in action and female power in attractiveness.
|Oh, a sexy nine-year-old! Seems fine.|
What's next? My First Pole Dancing Kit? Oh.