Friday, 7 June 2013

Culture Check: Then and Now

The image above was tweeted by the group Let Toys Be Toys, which lobbies retailers to stop seling toys by gender and instead sell them by category. On the left, it shows items from the retailer Argo's 1970's catalog of toys; on the right, current equivalents from their website.

Aside from the obviously much poorer construction, design and materials used, what immediately strikes is the barrage of pink. It is unrealistic (do you know anybody with a pink house?) but, more troublingly, it fosters what I consider an extremely negative and unbiblical gender stereotype.

See, it totally excludes little boys from two fundamental parts of life: having and caring for a house, and having and caring for a child. By drenching all the household items and childcare toys in pink, which in our society is strongly coded "female", it is telling little boys that this isn't for them.

Believe me, this is not innate. My one-year-old loves balls and tools and cars, and I have had people say to me many times something along the lines of "He's a real little boy, isn't he?" because of this. And yes, absolutely he is. A real little boy who runs to get his little broom when Mummy's sweeping and his little vacuum cleaner when Mummy's vacuuming. A real little boy who loves feeding his Ernie doll tea and snacks, or rocking the weird little androgynous baby doll his great-grandma gave him and "singing" to it (think tuneless "la, la, la" noises). A real little boy who is just as fascinated by a bunny as by a motorcycle, who loves reading as much as running around outside, in short, who is fascinated and attracted everything in his world, not just the things that are typically considered "boy things".

And I want it to stay that way. I wish I could protect him from finding out as he got older that pink toy kitchens are where the girls play, from his little boy friends telling him something he likes and is interested in is "girly". Because if I could protect him from that, maybe I could protect him from the larger implications of it as he got older. From well-meaning adults asking him how many girlfriends he has as if it is somehow manly to be two-timing a woman. From the beer commercials portraying a man with a bevy of pretty girls around him as the kind of guy my son should want to be like. From the jokes in movies about girls desperately pushing for commitment while guys are just looking to "play the field" and have fun. Basically, from the larger cultural message that tells boys that they don't want commitment and family leadership and responsibilities-- they want meaningless sex with as many girls as possible, and to not get "caught" by any of them.

How does this little pink buggy play into that? It subtly, insidiously starts teaching boys that home life, parenthood, domestic bliss- those are "girly". Little kids don't have the insight to look at a commercial or advertisement for a toy directed at them and to see the way the marketer has figured out what makes them tick to push them towards a certain product. They don't know that toy marketers use a "divide and conquer" strategy: if you can convince little boys and little girls that they shouldn't like the same kinds of toys, you can sell twice as many toys. They don't know that the world and the devil want them to be anything but committed, engaged husbands and fathers. But they do feel the peer pressure and their instinct to be accepted by their gender telling them to stay away from the "wrong" toys. Oh, how I wish I could protect my son from that!

Instead, son, I pray you grow up to be like your Daddy. He is a tender and caring father and a wise and responsible caretaker of his home, and those are two ways that he shows the kind of manliness the Bible praises and that points to God: not swagger and infidelity and carelessness, but deep commitment to His bride and tender and compassionate Fatherhood.

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