Saturday, January 17, 2015

What We Talk About When We Talk About Guns and Barbies

I hear lots of parents talk about guns and Barbie dolls, and what to do about them.

I don't like toy (or real) guns, and I can't stand Barbie dolls. As Paige somewhat hilariously told me once, "you don't like the message they send."

She's right. I don't like what Barbie dolls tell girls about sexuality and their bodies. I don't like what toy guns tell boys about masculinity and violence.

From the moment we're born, our culture begins the slow process of gender-based indoctrination and brainwashing. I like to think I have a gender-neutral parenting style, but my kids gravitate toward gender-scripted toys anyway.

So why don't I fight it? Why do I let both my kids have these toys and play with them?

Maybe because I wouldn't fight it in the opposite direction, as a matter of principle. Or maybe because I don't think a toy alone can do psychological damage to a child.

Yes, these toys contribute to a cumulative cultural paradigm that I reject. But I worry that prohibiting them fetishizes these objects to a point where they become more significant than they are, or should be. For me at least, a better approach is to have a casual attitude about them, in order to diminish their importance.

Guns are a reality of life in Alaska. I don't want guns in my house, because they scare me. But I want both my kids to learn gun safety and know the difference between a toy and the real thing. In the same vein, the sexualization of young girls and women is a reality of our culture, and I want both my kids, Paige especially, to understand the difference between a cartoon toy and real human beings and expectations.

I don't think outright prohibition of toy guns and Barbies serves that purpose. I don't like them, but I also feel like prohibiting them compounds and elevates everything that's "bad" about them.

Instead, when these toys find their way into my home, I try to use them as teaching tools, to hopefully help my kids toe the line between fantasy and reality.

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