I took my four-year-old son Leo grocery shopping the other day, and once I'd finished selecting all the food items on my list, I let him lead me to the toy aisle to pick out a treat. (I know, buying the kid a treat every time is a very bad habit, but that's a post for another day...)
Anyway, after examining all of the possible choices, one toy caught his eye: a toy cell phone colored bright pink with a shimmering pink carrying case that had a pearly-pink beaded handle. And as soon has he grabbed it, can you guess the first thing that came out of my mouth?
"But, that's for girls."
And as soon as I'd said it, I was biting my tongue and thinking I'm a bad parent, I'm a bad parent, I'm a bad parent...
I've bought my kids toys before that are probably more marketed to girls (a few dolls and toy dishes), but the thing is that they'd never asked for anything quite so, well, pink before. They're just barely getting to the age where the toys for their age group are strongly gender-segregated. My involuntary reaction shows I hadn't thought much about this yet for my own kids, mostly because they're boys and the "boy version" of each toy tends to be inoffensively neutral (so I have no problem buying it), whereas the "girl version" ends up gendered. Take a toy cell phone, for example: it's obviously a gender-neutral toy. Why would a girl need a feminine version?
Back to my story, I gathered up the three possible choices of toy cell phones to let Leo select the one he wanted. The choices were (1) the pink one, (2) a kind-of-feminine lavender one that wasn't quite so over-the-top as the pink one, and (3) a red one with a picture on its fake screen of someone parachuting. I can only assume that cell phone #3 is the one boys are supposed to pick, although I wouldn't object to giving that one to a girl. Leo was sure he wanted the pink one (a reasonable choice since it was the sparkliest and most fabulous of the three), so I figured "Why not?" and bought it for him. We brought it home and Leo had lots of fun making fake phone calls and rough-housed with it until he'd broken the beaded handle off the case. (Then he got the beaded handle stuck in one of the keyholes of our old house, and I had the fun of figuring out how get it back out...)
The next day, Leo brought his fabulous phone to school, and when he came home, he didn't have it anymore. I didn't notice at first (and neither did he), but a few hours later he remembered and started crying about it. Apparently some other boy at school had taken the phone away from him. Leo said the boy took it because it's a girl phone (so he presumably then gave it to a girl...? Not sure...). So I hugged Leo and told him not to worry, and that I'd buy him a new phone.
Then the next time I took Leo grocery shopping, we went to the toy aisle to pick out his replacement phone. Can you guess which one he picked this time? It was #3, the red one for boys.
So the problem was solved in a sense, but it has a bit of an unsatisfying conclusion. What do you think? Parents out there -- what do you do about the whole pink-gendered-toy question?