The other day, a colleague asked for a toy recommendation, a birthday gift for her 7 year-old niece. Considering that she has a 2 year old daughter and I have zero kids, I thought the question funny. Especially since we both went through our 7th birthdays so we were both able to imagine what 7 year-olds might like. anyhow, I thought about what I’d like to receive if i’m 7 again and I blurted out, “Lego!”
Lego to me is the king of children’s toys. from simple building blocks of various colours, you can make anything you wish, limited only by the power of your imagination. if you like to live by the rules, you can follow the seemingly simplistic instructions and build what you’re supposed to. (no really, haven’t you ever once sat staring at the instructions wondering if they really meant the 4th hole from the right or the 2nd hole from the left? sometimes it’s almost like trying to figure out origami instructions). I wasn’t a very imaginative kid and preferred to create whatever it was they printed on the side of the box. so I grew up with skill sets that allowed me to follow precisely how Ikea wants my sofa built, and I built it. At least I got the sofa I wanted and not a abstract piece of art in my living room.
having benefited greatly from Lego, I was eager for the next generation to share the joy that is Lego. That was not to be when my colleague gave me a Look of Disapproval (I get that a lot) and shrieked, “LEGO? but she’s not a boy!”
Wut? I thought. Actually a million thoughts ran through my head but Wut? was the one that stood out coz that one word described my entire being at that asinine comment she made. actually my reaction could have been, “what the fuck do you mean she’s not a boy? I played Lego and I’m not a boy! well i’m a little flat-chested but playing Lego didn’t make me flat-chested!” but my social meter alarm buzzed and I clamped my mouth shut and out came a Wut? expression innocently poised on my face.
So I made a half hearted attempt at reconciling Lego with girl toys and recommended the Lego Belville:
it’s still Lego and it’s pink?
the following week, she gave a summary report on the child’s birthday party; what went on, who did what, not that I really cared. What I wanted to know was what she bought for the child in the end. she proudly announced she bought the child a cooking set, the kind that came with stove, pots and pans. my eyes popped out. a cooking set? this time I couldn’t help myself. why would anyone buy a child a toy-version of a household product? granted if a child asked for one, you can’t fault the child for wanting one (although you’d wonder what made the kid want one). but in this instance, it is clear this toy was chosen based on an adult’s perception on what a child might like or should like. how many of us likes household chores that much that we wish the same joy bestowed on our children? I shrieked at Bryan, “are they supposed to grow up thinking that household chores are fun??? that they can like washing and ironing??? what will they grow up to be? a maid???”
Toys R Us is neatly segmented into a few distinct departments; baby toys, boys toys, girls toys and learning toys. under girls toys, apart from the usual dolls and such, there are the household toys: plastic kitchen utensils, kitchen stove, washing machine, vacuum cleaner and irons. all in bright shades of pink, purple and yellow but still HOUSEHOLD ITEMS nonetheless. what were toy makers thinking when they made these toys? what were parents thinking when they bought these toys? these aren’t toys. these are the Jaws of Unimagination! the Introduction to a Life of Reality!
someone tweeted about her daughter playing with her toy iron and my soul shrunk at the thought of yet another young female mind moulded to believe that her play options are restricted to what polite company thinks is appropriate for her gender. as a non-parent, I still can’t come to terms why parents would make these choices (again, if it weren’t already decided by the child she wants a pink mop). but as a female who grew up playing with gender unbiased toys, I appreciate the fact that my parents never forced a toy vacuum cleaner on me and said, “here you go. since you have a vagina, you’re more well-equipped to handle pretend-vacuuming while we buy cooler toys like Transformers for your brother.”