Gender stereotyping and toys

(69 Posts)
Starling Wed 02-May-01 13:08:00

My friend has a 4 year old son who will be starting school in September. He is very keen on Barbie and has a Barbie of his own. On a recent shopping trip for trainers, he was smitten with a pair of Barbie trainers. He has also seen a Barbie lunchbow at nursery school and is desperate to have one.
his mum says that he is interested in all things pink and glittery, not just Barbie.
Her dilemma is that, being aware of how older children might react when her son starts school, she did not feel able to buy him the shoes or the lunchbox, but could not explain to him why this was.
Whilst I understand her point (and personally I cannot abide Barbie anyway) I think it's really sad that she had to make this decision. What do others think? And how have other parents dealt with similar situations?

Snowy Wed 02-May-01 13:54:07

Oh that's a toughie. I want to say buy the Barbie - if a girl wanted Bob TB you wouldn't hesitate. Couldn't he have the Barbie things at home. I really wouldn't let him take them to school.

I really don't know what I'd do.

Tigermoth Wed 02-May-01 13:59:35

Starling, what a dilemna! One idea for your friend, for now: Why not buy the trainers tomorrow. By September when school starts, the little man will have grown out of them anyway, or they will have have disintegrated, and she can do a rain check then.

Kmg Wed 02-May-01 18:38:11

My eldest boy is almost 4, and is mad keen on all things pink, glittery, and sparkly. He loves dressing up in pink negligees and fairy costumes at playgroup - he gets a bit of stick for this, but it's generally managed OK. Recently choosing candles for a cake he chose barbie pink candles. I don't have a problem with this, but I wouldn't do anything to create problems for him. I would not buy him a Barbie, (he's never asked and I can't stand them either. I try to be fairly neutral in this area, but kids can be very cruel, and you have to protect them. There are lots of 4.5 yr-old girls at nursery with him, and if he arrived one day in, say, a frilly tutu, they would tease him mercilessly.

I never say to him - this is a girl thing, and this is a boy thing. He has dolls, pushchair, dollies cot, cooker, etc. at home, and that is fine. But you have to draw the line and protect them from teasing. Maybe try and encourage them in other directions - my son loves pink, but if asked his favourite colour he will say green.

Rhiannon Wed 02-May-01 19:09:42

I know of a 5 year old that has had his passion for all things 'girly' indulged to a ridiculous point. His mother works full time and buys him whatever his heart desires when she is home. He has a whole wardrobe of girls dressing up clothes including Minnie Mouse and a full Bridal outfit, unfortunately things are getting to a serious point and I dread to think what the future holds for this young man.

Jbr Wed 02-May-01 19:42:37

How sad. She is doing the right thing but because of the prejudices other parents might have taught their kids he will get grief. People like this don't deserve children.

I had a row with my uncle once because he didn't want my male cousin to have a toy pram because it was a "girl's" toy!

Robinw Wed 02-May-01 21:21:17

message withdrawn

Suew Wed 02-May-01 22:47:46

My mum bought my then 6yo nephew a Barbie for Xmas when he requested it. His mum was expecting a baby and he wanted the one with ?Shelly, the baby so he could put them in the jeep with two of his Action Men and have a real family.

In my daughter's ballet class there is one boy out of about 25 students. I think it's a real shame that more fathers (and yes, having talked to the mothers it is the fathers that object) don't want their boys to learn the balance etc which can stand them in good stead in the future.

Emmam Thu 03-May-01 07:54:07

Could your friend take him for a walk 'conveniently' past the school when they are coming out so he can see what the other kids are using currently. Maybe your friend could make pointed comments such as 'that looks a good lunchbox, how about we find one like that for you?'

Kids soon work out for themselves what makes blend in with their peers. If your friend's son really is adamant about a Barbie lunchbox then I'd say let him have one, but make sure she buys a cheap one, because I'll bet that within two weeks of being at school he'll want something different. If he doesn't, then good luck to him - there's a kid that knows what he likes and likes what he knows!

Sml Thu 03-May-01 07:54:45

Suew, what a lovely story, seems like that little boy has a very mature approach!

Rhiannon Thu 03-May-01 07:55:26

I think the problem is people don't want their children to be gay. We all want our children to be happy whatever they turn out to be but we all still want our children to be 'normal'. There I said it - barrage of abuse this way please.

Most fathers want their boys to grow up to be big, strong, men, to get married and have families of their own, I suppose the natural, 'normal' way but when things start to go a wee bit pear shaped at a young age, maybe the alarm bells start to ring. I'm sure people still think that you can be 'turned' gay which as we all know is not true.

I'm quite convinced that my friend's son already has very definite 'problems' in this department. Don't want to go into too many details.

Sugar Thu 03-May-01 08:29:23


Marina Thu 03-May-01 08:37:01

Suew, that is a lovely story, it really brightened up my day.

I don't particularly want my son to be gay either: people are still very ignorant and bigoted about lifestyles different to their own, and Rhiannon is right to highlight a parent's concern that their child has an easy passage through life by not standing out in any way.

But I'd be much more anxious about my son and my relationship with him in later life if he turned out to have racist or homophobic views, or grew up to be a wife-beater, drug-dealer, loan-shark, mugger etc.

My gay friends treat their parents extremely well, that's for sure, despite all having gone through a miserable time coming out to their families. Two of them are also parents, so the old concern of "but I wanted grandchildren" can be overcome...

Janh Thu 03-May-01 09:56:54

starling, this is such a tough one; if he has a strong enough character to cope she could let him go to school in the barbie trainers with the barbie lunchbox and deal with it himself - if he can be cool about his preferences and not get upset they wouldn't tease him for long but if he reacts they will and children can be so spiteful.

how big is the school? how good is playground supervision? starting big school is quite an anxious time for a 4-yr-old and if he isn't allowed to have what he wants, it could be worse than having it... could they be confident that any bullying would be squashed? could she talk to the reception class teacher about it?

it's a dangerous road to go down, the girls things/boys things one - especially since it usually seems to be considered cute if a little girl wants eg bob the builder things...

you didn't say if is he interested in other things as well or just pink and glittery ones?

Starling Thu 03-May-01 11:58:13

Janh - he is interested in other things, but his favourite toys, clothes etc tend to be colourful ones - nothing unusual about that, I guess.
As to whether he has the strength of character to withstand the inevitable teasing he would get going to school dressed in Barbie regalia, that's difficult to say, as he hasn't been exposed to that sort of reaction before. He is what I would call a slightly eccentric child in that for the most part he makes his own mind up about what he wants to do and is not particularly interested in other people's suggestions. I think he is the type of kid who might end up being a bit of a loner by choice, if you see what I mean.
His mum is a primary school teacher and therefore has plenty of first hand experience of how mean kids can be to those who they perceive as being different. I think therefore that her priority is to protect him, although I know she does not want to enforce any stereotypes on him.

Marina, can I just say that I agree entirely with your point that there are much worse things that your child can be than gay. And I don't think that sexuality can be influenced by the sort of toys and clothes that a child has. I have a number of male gay friends and none of them spent their childhoods wearing dresses and playing with dolls.

Tigermoth Thu 03-May-01 13:02:32

Starling, been thinking. Don't like to suggest telling white lies to children as a rule, but in this case it might effect a compromise between self expression and protection against teasing:

How about suggesting to your friend: Saying Barbie trainers 'only come in girls sizes', but you can find a pair of Barbie socks that would fit. Socks would be a bit more discreet (and cheap) than trainers - and you could tuck a spare pair of ordinary socks into his school bag, so if he was teased, he could, if he wanted to, change. I used to tell my son that Mothercare had a special 'sports' section when at 5 years, he had a worrying tendency to request socks and 'T' shirts from expensive sports shops.

I think Emmams idea about a walk past the school is a very good one, too. I'd definitely do that pronto.

On the other hand, you don't want to imply it's silly to like girls things. Robinw, how sad that that the little boys your daughter knew were not allowed to play with dolls houses. Glad you found a way round it!

For a 4 year old, it's an eternity from now to September, Barbie might be usurped by Action man -who knows. I'd be inclined to go with the flow for now and buy the odd bit of Barbie, but also get him together with lots of school-aged boys and girls eg in park playgrounds,so he gets a general feel for what's in and what's out.

Jbr Thu 03-May-01 17:37:47

So gay men behave like women do they? Do people believe these ridiculous stereotypes, and why do we have this idea that women behave in a certain way in the first place and gay men take on these attributes?! I still can't believe we live in a society where we think gay men dress in women's clothes and all gay women wear denim! And we shouldn't have "men's" things and "women's" things anyway, apart from the obvious physical differences eg women having to wear a bra!

Ems Thu 03-May-01 19:29:04

Jbr, you do like to get aggressive on strong issues don't you. I always await your comments!

Rhiannon Thu 03-May-01 19:45:11

Unfortunately Jbr yes you're right people do believe these ridiculous stereotypes. Remember it wasn't very long ago that homosexuality was actually an illegal activity in England. People have to adjust their ideas and values and I'm sure by the next generation gay people will be accepted in a better way.

Just like my own generation the 30-somethings who have always accepted black and asian people as equals (but I challenge you to speak to a 70 year old on the same subject and listen to their point of view).

At 92 years old a Great Aunt of my husband's died last year, she was brought up with servants (her words) in the house and accepted this as normal. How life changes.

Some gay people do fit the stereotype which is why it sticks I suppose. Just like some people seem to think the Irish are thick, the Scots are tight the list of stereotypes is endless.

Robinw Thu 03-May-01 20:12:00

message withdrawn

Jbr Thu 03-May-01 21:45:23

Robin, I pity your children. I thought I had found a sensible website but it seems not. I left another site because someone said similar things. "effeminate" means behaving like a woman, as though women all behave the same. I give up!!

Emmy Thu 03-May-01 23:14:37

Well, my nearly six year old loves Barbie. When his sister got two Barbie cars for Christmas they fought over the pink one. He looks fantastic in Barbie shoes too. while I know its just something he likes and means nothing for the future, I dont care anyway. We dont encourage the girl stuff or discourage it, if he likes something he plays with it. And I really really wouldnt care if he was gay when he grows up, (as long as one of my kids produces grandchildren lol!!)- and my husband doesnt care either.

Lil Fri 04-May-01 09:23:57

Jbr what's wrong with the term effeminate. Robin's right there are loadsa gays who express themselves by being OTT camp and prancing. Not sure why they think that's how women are, but they do.

Lizzer Fri 04-May-01 10:28:52

I see the point you are trying to make, as to classify all women ( or all men ) as one all consuming term is clearly wrong. However not everyone knows the correct definition of the word 'effeminate', or has looked at it from that point of view before, therefore to criticise robinw's parenting skills because of misuse of the English language is a bit wrong too... Surely it would be better to educate rather than vilify, don't you agree? It would be a rather boring website if everyone knew everything and all had the same opinions so stay and open our minds a little...!

Tigermoth Fri 04-May-01 10:48:34

Jbr, to backtrack a little. The orginal problem posted here was as I understand it:

A mother has concerns that her son will be teased if he starts school wearing Barbie regalia. She is a primary school teacher, so knows what can go on. The boy has not been exposed to this type of reaction before. She does not want to reinforce gender stereotypes, but her priority is to protect him and help him face a specific situation, namely his first day at big school.

Lots of the following suggestions posted here - mine included -are addressing this specific issue, not giving general house rules or views on gayness or gender stereotyping.

However much we as cool, PC adults think being gay is fine and dandy, however much we give our children boys and girls things to play with at home(not calling them boys or girls things of course,) we are not going to be sitting next to this little boy, waving our liberal flags, in the classroom on his first day at school.

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