I really enjoyed this article by Peggy Orenstein, the author of the soon-to-be-released and wonderfully-named book, Cinderella Ate My Daughter: Dispatches from the Front Lines of the New Girlie-Girl Culture. I'll be interested to read it, and certainly wonder what Orenstein means by "new."
In any case, the Times article from a week and a half ago talks about the push for "girl-friendly" kids' toys, which have been getting some extra press in the wake of Lego's release of a "girl-friendly" line of toys, which includes a "Butterfly Beauty Shop" and a "Fashion Design Studio." These "girls'" legos are, of course, decked out in "girl" colors: lavender, pink, and powder blue:
_We're girls, so we love pastels, lipstick, and beauty products! Tee-hee!
Orenstein points out that although gender-specific toys are founded in research that suggests that girls and boys play differently from one another, these very preferences are--at least in part--products of nurture, not nature. To take it a step further, girls prefer pink in large part because we teach them that pink is what girls like.
Even if we accept, for argument's sake, that little girls and little boys have different toy preferences, why do the toys need to be gender-segregated? Why can't we just have pink legos and navy blue legos and green legos all mixed together, and individual kids can decide what they want? Why are so many toy stores grouped into "girls" and "boys" toys? Why not put dolls alongside race cars? If boys end up gravitating toward some toys more than others, fine. But why spell out gender norms by labeling toys by gender before the kids even get their paws on 'em?
For one, gender-normative toys make gender non-normative kids feel even less normal. It's not just that a girl who wants a toy race car is choosing a toy that the boys in her class also tend to choose; it's that she has to go to a section of the toy store that specifically excludes her to get the toy she wants. That is insane.
What if research suggested that black kids and white kids had different toy preferences or play styles, and that it would be much more efficient for everyone to simply have an aisle called "black kids' toys" and one called "white kids' toys?" Not a perfect analogy, of course--but to me, it underscores the absurdity of categorizing kids' toys by gender.