I've just ordered fridge magnets for me and my friends featuring this picture. It's a long story, and it starts very early in the morning. Let me explain...
My son wakes up early. Like 5:30 early. Including weekends. Knowing full well that we will long for these days when he's a teenager and barely makes it out of bed before sundown, this is not an ideal situation for us right now. We get up around 6ish ourselves, which is good and early, but there's something important about that half an hour, especially as it's on the wrong side of 6am, and we really don't like it when it's interfered with.
So we got him a little clock that shows a dim blue star at night and a bright yellow sun when it's time to get up. We tried to make him stay in bed until the 'sun came up on the clock', but nope, he got bored. We conceded that he could play in his room, but he wasn't to disturb Mummy and Daddy while they were still asleep. It's mostly successful, but with a significant downside of having his room completely trashed on a regular basis before 6am, before we're awake enough to handle it, and before we have to find school uniform amidst the minefield of small plastic bits that either cause great distress for my son or great pain for us when stepped on. Sometimes both.
So, we were tidying up his room at around 7am this morning (not for the last time today) and I found this Playmobil character, some kind of fairy princess bride character that had picked up two guns from the police set we also have. Now, the bride character turned up in his Christmas stocking last year, when I objected to the gendering of blind bags on offer in the supermarket. Boys get blue packets with pirates and racing drivers, while girls get pink packets with princesses and caring professions. It's objectionable, but I don't want to stigmatise toys targeted at girls, so in an effort to smash the system and fill his stocking at the same time, I got one of each. Pertinent flashback time:
A while ago we received some of the Lego Friends range as a freebie, and while I have some serious issues with that range, I didn't want my son thinking that stuff for girls is less than valid. So I reframed Olivia's fruit smoothie cart as the Streetfood Retail Start-up Entrepreneur playset, and let my son get on with playing with it. The set comes with $200 dollars in little lego money, so it's obvious that working with good suppliers and delivering the right product to your customers can be pretty lucrative. Quite soon after that, Olivia also managed to stop an alien invasion by talking to the aliens and discovering that all they wanted was some fruit. More recently, the little Olivia figure has become a shoe-in for Tamsin Thomas, Neill Cameron's 10-year-old Cornish comic-book heroine. As with all Lego, there's quite a few different options for play, even if Olivia is essentially the latest incarnation of Sporty Spice.
Back to the Playmobil, it's like I said, he got one blue packet and one pink packet in his stocking last Christmas, and he didn't bat an eyelid when he got a pirate and a bride. They got married, obviously, but she soon started running around with his sword, and since everything in my son's room gets inevitably mixed up with all other things, he sees no reason not to include her in the stories that he makes with the police, the criminals, and the knights and pirates we also have.
So this morning, while tidying up, I noticed this gun-toting flower princess, and asked my son what kind of story he was playing. He recapped for me, still in full story-teller mode, thus:
"Right, I've had enough!" she said, bursting into the room. "Get out of my tower, NOW!"
Not bad for a 5 year old kid. Good dialogue, and a nice bit of description with a good verb.
I posted the picture and the quote on Fecebook and gained much love from my people, one of whom liked it so much, she made this here picture, which has now become my wife's profile picture. It's sort of become my son's first meme, which is sweet in itself. Someone suggested fridge magnets, so I went ahead and ordered some.
If there's a moral to this story it's probably something along the lines of keeping your mind open when it comes to choosing toys for your kids. It's easy and depressingly necessary to find fault with toys aimed at girls, and it's right to call toy makers and stockists out on their insistence that girls should limit themselves to caring and nurturing professions, or the very mixed messages that come from princess-themed kitchens and appliances (if you're a princess, there's no way you do your own fucking ironing). Other commentators have made a very good job of exploring why all this is poisonous for our young people, and I'm fully in favour of any effort or campaign to sort out the dire state of toy aisle segregation. I'm of the opinion that any person, boy or girl, can play with any toy, so long as it's not operated by the person's genitals. If it is, then this isn't a toy for children.
But looking at the situation from another point of view, from the point of view of a parent who wants to shield their son from the equally damaging flip-side of gendered toys and play, and you find there's lots to be said for giving a boy dolls to play with, pushchairs for his teddies, and Lego and Playmobil that's aimed at girls. Boys toys are limited in scope too, although that scope is often prized as cool, and includes most of action and science stuff. It's biased, and it's privileged, and we want to undermine it as much as possible, with the end result that, hopefully, our son will have a much broader range of play activities, and be able to interact with girls and form relationships with them and ultimately respect them and what they have to offer.
So we integrate these toys and these options into his world as much as we can, while drawing as little attention to it as possible, so as not to other the 'girly' toys. We had a hard time finding him an iron that wasn't pink, glittery or played Let It Go, but we found one, and he loves it. He asked for a little dustbuster hoover for his birthday once, so we got him one of those. He got a smoothie cart, and he used it to save the world. He got a flowery princess bride, and he made a badass female protagonist who's now being immortalised in a fridge magnet. Not bad for a 5 year old kid.