Pretty in pink: is my daughter doomed?

6 Feb
 Yellow Moon

Photo credit: Yellow Moon

According to government minister Jenny Willott in a debate today, pink toys are damaging the economy. Damaging it? Going by the number of pink toys in shops I’d say they’re supporting it. But Ms Willott was referring to something much more sinister and long-term. She argues that pink toys are steering girls away from careers in engineering and the sciences and therefore businesses are missing out on “vital talent”.  Toys – and the associated stereotypes – are to blame for the gender gap.

This puts me in a quandary. I’m not happy with the way toys are marketed at boys and girls. Lego Friends leaves a bad taste in my mouth. However, I resent the suggestion that my 5-year-old daughter’s future success will be mapped out for her by the toys she plays. If I listen to what was said in today’s debate then she’s doomed! I might as well start my search for a rich husband for her now. Like many first-time parents, I started off adamant that pink plastic and sparkles were not going to become part of our household. Yet 5 years on, my daughter last night set up a mini hair salon in her bedroom and I happily let her brush my hair and smudge lipstick across my face. The pink flood inevitably sweeps into your home, regardless of how much parental sand-bagging you do.

Am I worried that she’s going to think she can’t achieve a professorship in astrophysics? No. Am I going to thrust Meccano at her and make her play with it goddammit? No, I’m not. Of course I’d rather she got a buzz from building a 6-foot replica of the Forth Bridge in Lego. Of course I find bottles of Princess Aurora perfume and hair braiding sets intensely annoying in the way they reinforce gender stereotypes -but my daughter likes them. She has a little brother so there are plenty of ‘boys’ toys and ‘girls’ toys in our house – she can play with whatever she likes. Giving children free rein to choose what they play with is positively advocated. If my daughter that day chooses her Lego Friends café over a Lego digger then who am I to stop her?

When I look at the toys she plays with that are supposedly ‘girlie’ I see much more than a future vision of her propping up a nail bar. Take Hama beads for example: fairly girlish, arty, pretty, plenty of pink beads for budding princesses. But there is so much more to them. As my daughter focuses intently for half an hour on making a flower I can see her learning concentration, patience, design, symmetry, maths (she counts the beads when copying examples) and science (the heat applied to the materials causes them to melt and fuse – well, you didn’t think I told her it was magic, did you?).

Sure, there are lots of pink plastic toys for girls that are useless and serve no purpose. That’s what the children of yesteryear used to call ‘fun’ before we forgot how to have it. My little girl learns through playing with things that make her happy. By being happy she feels comfortable with herself. Without that comfort she will never have the confidence to open her mind and imagine what she is capable of. If her first step on the road to becoming an astronaut is sticking stars on a Barbie picture then so be it.

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