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Gender Block: Christmas gift giving and stereotypes

Hillary Di Menna

So evidently, Christmas is coming. Lots of shopping, lots of kids getting excited and lots of opportunities for us adults to hammer home stereotypical gender roles to the tiny, influential minds in our lives.

This can especially happen when a gift-giver doesn’t really know the kid that well and relies on traditional go-tos. One year a—very kind, well-intentioned—extended family member bought my daughter a mini doll and her male cousin trucks. When my daughter ended up playing with the trucks the gift-giver said, with a little surprise, “Oh I wish I knew she liked trucks, that’s what I would have given her!” It wasn’t an intentional act of gender role promotion; she bought what we have been told our whole lives to buy for girls and boys. It is what we were given as children.

“Children’s wide-eyed excitement over the products we buy them pierces through our own boredom as consumers and as adults,” Peggy Orenstein writes in her book Cinderella Ate My Daughter. “It makes us feel again.” Marketers bank on the nostalgia  adults feel when shopping for children. Unfortunately it isn’t Christmas magic  that’s happening: it is perpetrating the same sexist messages.

In my case, my daughter’s favourite colour rotates between pink and purple. She prefers dresses to anything else and swoons over ballerinas. She also hates having her hair done, loves Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles and asks her uncle to wrestle with her. The fact that she plays princess doesn’t bother me; it is when our culture is so dead set on making princesses the only option that I take issue with. Then there is this whole macho manly man image that is sold to boys—like a two-year-old’s maleness makes him ready to go make a cabinet.

Kids are multi-dimensional, and something as simple as a Christmas gift can send them the message that they are not. It is even implied with comments like, “What are you asking Santa for this year, little girl? A dollhouse?” The kid isn’t even given a chance to say anything different. There are progressive options like Toward the Stars and Goldie Blox. However, it would be nice if these weren’t “progressive” options and we just gave our children options in the first place.

A former This intern, Hillary Di Menna writes Gender Block every week and maintains an online feminist resource directory, FIRE- Feminist Internet Resource Exchange.

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