Having a new baby cousin in my family has re-introduced to me the intense and disturbing gender-stereotyping of children from infancy onward. Toys, books, and clothing are becoming seemingly more and more gendered as I grow older - toys that were previously gender neutral are not becoming gender specific (i.e Lego and Duplo), split into a comfortable and often unchallenged gendered binary that has girls playing house and boys playing heroes.
When buying for little girls, the challenge of course is to avoid the everything-pink-damsel-in-distress-princess complex exposed and discussed in depth in the book Cinderella Ate My Daughter, and other commentary on the pink-wash of the "girl's side" of the aisle. The new app from the Miss Representation team #NotBuyingIt frequently features user discontent around the fostering of domesticity, submissiveness, and attractiveness in girls and intelligence, strength, and independence in boys. In fact many online campaigns have fought against some egregious examples, and a few have been awesomely successful (see #4, #5, and #12).
That's why A Mighty Girl is getting it so right. A Mighty Girl is an online store with "the world’s largest collection of books, toys, movies, and music for parents, teachers, and others dedicated to raising smart, confident, and courageous girls" (from their About Us section). Briefly clicking through the site reveals their different approach to toys for girls: books are separated into topics like "Personal Development" and "Social Issues," toys support imaginative and outdoor play, and their t-shirts don pictures of book covers and feminist heroes. It is not the worst thing that some little girls like princesses and pink, but A Mighty Girl is about having more options, for the girls (my 8 year old self included) that never really liked pink, or the parents/relatives/friends (my current self included) that want to offer the little ones in their life a little something more.
With the birth and rise of GoldieBlox, and the recent attention on their call for an end to stereotyping girl's toys, it is hopeful that A Mighty Girl will conduct more and more business in the near future. While the site is of course still gender-exclusive in that it is only offering products for girls empowerment, and in a way reaffirms the binary, I would argue that what's harmful about gendered products on the shelves today is not that different toys are made for girls than for boys, but that those categories respectively remain within an impossibly limited scope for imagining what little boys or girls want to play with, and therefore, limit who they can be. With the upcoming project, again by the team being Miss Representation The Mask You Live In --a powerful documentary about the harms of hyper-masculinity--it is hopeful that we are moving towards a future that also complicates and nuances the approaches to boyhood through the products and toys offered, because not every young boy wants to be a pirate or a firefighter, just like every girl doesn't want a toy kitchen. I see A Mighty Girl as stepping closer to the middle, which is overall, a step in the right direction. I have to say though that I seriously wish their logo was more inclusive and included girls of different races and maybe even body types, or at least wasn't another white girl. But I still stand by the site's good qualities and mission.
Although a toy revolution doesn't seem like the most important battle to be fighting (especially taking into consideration that the toy industry itself is terribly capitalistic and supports individualistic materialism in children and we should maybe question supporting it at all) when we remember that today's children are tomorrows leaders, thinkers, and decision-makers, and excited parents and relatives are not going to stop buying their little ones toys anytime soon, it seems like an important place to dedicate some serious efforts to.
Visit A Mighty Girl here.
Images via A Mighty Girl website and Facebook.