Experts say that bullying can’t be truly addressed without talking about the fear of people perceived as different. Yet preventing future bullies by teaching them to be open-minded can be challenging even in the best of circumstances.
A parent of a gender nonconforming child I spoke to told me she’s come to the conclusion that when friends and colleagues offered their support, they were quick to reassure her that they were actively raising their children in a gender-neutral way. “By which they seemed to mean,” she said, “that they were willing to give their daughter a baseball or “let” their son play with a toy kitchen…while they hovered, watching.”
From personal experience, this mother soon came to the conclusion that it wasn’t her friends’ good intention that were in question, but the fact that it was simply not possible to raise a child in a gender neutral way in marketing-dominated America. To understand this, all you need to do is spend some time looking critically at the way that virtually everything for children—merchandise and experieinces—is marketed and advertised in stores and the media.
“C had just turned three and could not yet read…. he had done something that deserved a reward and I took him to Toys R Us to pick out something that he wanted. He spent literally a couple of hours carefully examining the packaging for a large number of toys and was quickly able to tell me, in each case, if it was a “boy toy” or a “girl toy” by reference to how it was packaged…..A child who has a strong sense of his or her own gender identity has a hard time looking past the packaging to see if a toy, clothing, book, food, etc. is something they might enjoy on its merits because they get such a strong up-front message about whether the item is intended for them or not.”
“C would not and will not pick a “boy toy” off the shelf, even when the toy itself is something that I can tell he is kind of interested in, because the packaging forces him to make a choice — a declaration — about who he is that he was not and is not willing to make. That’s a heavy burden for a little kid to carry around, especially when there is a dissonance between every message the world is sending about who you should be and what you are supposed to want and what you feel in your own heart.”
When stores separate toys into aisles for girls and boys, aren’t we sending the underlying message that anyone who deviates from their designated shelves deserves to be ridiculed? If a 6-year-old children saw ‘Star Wars’ toys next to Barbie dolls and action figures, perhaps they would begin to feel a sense of freedom that at this point is almost unimaginable.
Our Kickstarter campaign is one small step in that direction.
Thank you for your support!