Christina Hoff Sommers—who literally wrote the book on the war on boys—notes that there’s a movement afoot to de-gender toys. Target has pulled the “boys” and “girls” labeling from their toy aisles. The White House recently hosted a “summit” on the perils of gender-specific toys. Time proclaims that “the next generation of kids will play with gender neutral toys.”
This is crazy on two counts. First, the kind of people who obsess about gender-neutral toys don’t, as a demographic fact, have many children. In America these days, childbearing tends to be the counter-cultural province of people who aren’t social justice warriors.
Second, even if you give kids gender neutral toys, they’ll gender the heck out of them on their own. Trust me, I know.
In my house, we’re basically hippie parents. We don’t read Dag Hammarskjöld to the kids at bedtime, but we do use a “peace rose” to, as the consultants say, facilitate reconciliation following interpersonal conflict. We favor natural fibers for linens and clothing, occasionally have family meetings where we whiteboard our concerns, and are suckers for the organic food scam. The kids go to a hippie Montessori school where they “choose their own work” and don’t get grades. And we’ve always favored the kind of constructive, creative toys that the non-gender toy people love. Not on purpose, mind you—this wasn’t an ideological decision, it just sort of happened. My son has never owned a single action figure and my daughters own only one Barbie doll, which was a gift from a relative close enough that we couldn’t return it.
Yet it turns out that gender stereotypes exist for a reason. When he was four, our eldest, a boy, discovered that sticks make for highly effective swords. Later he realized that the removable flag from the Safety Turtle was an even better weapon, since it could be used as a sword, spear, or lance. Every time he went outside he made himself a weapon and went off to battle imaginary villains.
His sisters, meanwhile, gravitated toward decidedly less aggressive play. They use sticks as fairy wands and carry little Ziploc baggies of glitter which they sprinkle as “pixie dust.” In their games, there are no “bad guys,” only perilous situations— “Don’t fall off that cliff!”—where they have to help one another with their “magic.”
Over the years we’ve noticed that whenever a “non-gendered” toy is introduced into their habitat, the kids appropriate it along stereotypically gendered lines. Example: A few years ago there was a Rainbow Loom craze, where kids took tiny rubber loops and wove them into bracelets. Everyone was doing it. We bought thousands of the things for our kids. The girls wove bracelets that they collected and gave to their friends. The boy also wove bracelets—until he realized that he could use the rubber loops to weave a long elastic cord that he was then able to tie to a flexible piece of wood. He used the Rainbow Loom to build a workable bow. He never made another bracelet.
We never taught our kids any of this stuff. They just arrived at it on their own. Because—I understand that this is a radical concept—boys and girls are different.
As I stare at my children’s play room right now, here are the toys I see: A 5-foot-tall cloth teepee; a large set of Magna-Tiles; a Q-Ba-Maze; Moluk Bilibos (which are even weirder than whatever you’re picturing right now); and about 30,000 Legos. Like I said, we’re hippies.
Here is what the children do with those toys: All of them use the teepee, the girls as a “fairy house” and the boy as a fort. The girls use the Magna-Tiles to build interesting geometric shapes. The boy most recently used the pieces from the Q-Ba-Maze—which is a modular marble-maze contraption—to build a “laser blaster.”
And when it comes to Legos? The girls spend hours designing princess castles and houses, with intricate rooms for their Lego minifigures. The boy has created a series of fighter jets, each one with more missiles and cannons and bombs than the last.
One of the oddities of modern life is that polite society currently insists that you are “born this way” if you are homosexual or misgendered. But when it comes to boys who like to play with swords and build fighter jets? For some reason, this is viewed as a societal construct that should be eradicated so that they’ll want to play with dolls.
As we’ve discovered at my house, this is a project that’s doomed to fail.