It’s three weeks until Halloween, so of course it must be Christmas shopping season. Or so says the toy catalog that just arrived in the mail.
I don’t mind that so much. There were other messages in this Young Explorers catalog that were much more disturbing.
Here we are with the first woman ready to break the glass ceiling of the presidency, and this toy catalog looks like something out of the 1950s – except the toys are more gadgety, more electronic and a lot more expensive.
What hasn’t changed in more than a half-century, apparently, is what’s considered a toy for boys and which toys are for girls.
The wording tends to be gender-neutral, but the marketing is all in the photos, which clearly show that hair-prettifying, housework and glamour are for girls, while sports, science and construction are for boys.
In almost every photo where the toy had something to do with athletics, outdoors life, spies, magic, construction sets, vehicles or combat, the kid building, zooming, spying and exploring was a boy. Girls got to wear butterfly wings, play musical instruments and make quilts.
On page 22, a boy is revving his scooter/snowboard that glows with multicolored LED lights while a girl plays a junior-sized guitar. Three pages later, a boy maneuvers a two-handled excavator, and a girl plays violin.
The girls aren’t left totally outside the science-and-exercise loop. On the science end, a girl gets to grow a few vegetables and break geodes. Adventure-wise, girls skip rope with flashing lights and glide down a $160 glowing-lights backyard zip line.
But guess which gender is shown sweeping with a miniature broom, part of a fun housecleaning kit?
Yes, girls might tend to certain toy preferences and boys to others, but we limit their possibilities and force those traditions forward when we tighten down the gender reins on them from toddlerhood. We strait-jacket imagination when we can’t picture a boy playing with fancifully colored ponies and a girl deconstructing a toy tractor.
This is stuff straight out of my kindergarten days, when the girls were directed toward the “play house” corner and the boys monopolized the building blocks. In middle school, I had to take sewing – my embarrassing introductory attempt at an apron kept me off the honor roll – while I yearned for the fun of shop.
And now toy catalogs are telling parents that girls should sweep the floors, make quilts, pop beads together for jewelry and tend to their hair, instead of encouraging them to grab the toy race car that supposedly runs on air.
Perhaps the dreariest item in the catalog, though, is a toy purse in pink and purple, naturally; how often are girls offered other colors in the world of gendered toys?
The headline to sell it? “Just Like Mommy’s!” It includes a toy lipstick, cellphone, debit card and unbreakable mirror.
So here’s my holiday wish for 2017: Yes, something “Just Like Mommy’s!” Her scrubs as she heads off to surgery at the hospital, her uniform as she enlists in the military, her laptop as she wears away the letter markings on the keyboard, fuming about the mid-20th century stereotyping that haunts us even as a woman aims to be leader of the free world.
Karin Klein is a freelance journalist in Orange County who has covered education, science and food policy. She can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org.