For the longest time a tiny part of me would get all bunched up and worried when I acknowledged Aodhan’s obsession with diggers and trains. I mean these things are only found in the ‘blue’ section of ToysRUs and they are marketed to boys; 1 to put it mildly, it was making me crap my pants. Gender binaries are insidious in marketing, sales and even the design of many toys, I didn’t want them eating up Aodhan in the earliest years and convincing him that boys equal blue and dirt and being rough and assy. Parents notice these marketing tricks, but do our kids? Can our kids, at 8 months old, recognize that a company is marketing to their expected sex? I don’t think so, and that’s why it is so darn powerful – it can just become what they know as normal.
That’s where parenting comes in. I am not saying my parenting is the right parenting, or that my parenting guarantees your child a future that is free of the gender/sex/sexuality binaries that are socially imposed, but I do think that there are constructive and positive ways to work towards an understanding of gender that is open and flowing, and thereby mimicking the actual human experience.
So yah, my kid plays with trucks. But, when we play with trucks and diggers we don’t limit ourselves to ideas that are created for us by Bob the Builder et al. We use the trucks as vehicles for learning skills and embracing imaginary play. Why can’t we practice nurturing and life skills while gently cleaning our trucks? Why can’t we focus on fine motor skills when playing with a dump truck and some natural materials? Why can’t we cuddle and snuggle while we read about ‘Mighty Loader’?
I also try and draw attention to who might be missing from the prepackaged play that can sometimes enter our world. For example, all of our diggers came with male characters – but we don’t just play with these figures. In fact, Aodhan’s favourite addition to his dumper is a girl figure upon whose blond curls he glued a loose hard hat to.
Feminist parenting, like Feminist politics, can’t magically create a society that is free of patriarchy, prejudice and ignorance, nor can we act that the shitty things don’t exist. We have to acknowledge them as a part of life and help our children navigate through them in healthy and enlightening ways – I mean, what kind of jerk would I be if I told my digger-loving child that he couldn’t have dumpers and grabbers just because they can be used to enforce gender roles/expectations. Ummmm, no. Let’s work towards snatching that truck out of the hands of a gender binary society and placing it into the hands of our open-minded sons and daughters 2.
We also spend a lot of time playing with items and ideas that fall outside of the socially crafted spectrum of ‘boys’ toys’. We have dolls, a dress up basket, and a wooden kitchen (yah, cause women belong in a kitchen, right?) I am pretty sure (or just desperately hopeful) that Aodhan doesn’t know that certain toys are for kids with a penis and all the pink toys are for kids with vaginas. I know these are just toys, ways of playing and dress up clothes, but if most contemporary educational theorists are right (as I think they are) in their surmising that play = learning, than toys can be powerful tools in shaping and nurturing our kids. And, I will be damned if I let toys shape my kids’ concept of gender and sex into a dark, dank and limiting box. No thanks.
What do we do with our trucks and diggers? Oh, you know. Just a bit of this and that.