Let girls play soccer and boys make pasta
Should the books, films, and especially toys ever be the battlegrounds for fighting gender stereotypes?
Most children (and adults) take capes, magic potions, and superpowers quite seriously.
Just as they take mermaids, castles, and magic dust seriously as well. So don't be surprised when I mention that I watched the first installment of Frozen (2013), with love, dedication, and passion; just like most kids. I spent a good amount of time of the last few years humming Let It Go as well. As an adult, I am not over the magic of Frozen, whilst a few children have outgrown Anna and Elsa, and their friends Kristoff, Olaf, and Sven. I haven't outgrown the film, for other than being a marvellous production, it was a breath of fresh air.
As Frozen 2 plays in theatres, I am in particular excited to re-visit a fairy tale that has turned out to be a superhero story for the society at large. To begin with, it was after the movie's release that little girls began to ask for a blue frock/gown as their birthday outfit.
The once pink-themed party suddenly turned blue and shattered a stereotype. The prince charming was overshadowed by the sister, who stood up and fought against all odds. We witnessed a queen and not a king save the queendom. Among other lessons, the movie served as a reminder that it takes little to bring a change, as long as we are willing to make a start. Did it kick start a movement or has it only made playtime complicated?
As I book my tickets for this instalment, I am reminded of a few other changes in recent times. Girls all over the world have been playing with the Barbie doll since it was introduced in 1959, yours truly included. Over the decades, Mattel has presented us with the doll in various avatars from the American beauty pageant contestant to the Italian teacher. It was only recently that they expanded Barbie's career choices to include in STEM fields, amongst others. You can now gift your little girl the Robotics Engineer Doll, who comes with a laptop and a robot figure. Barbie has partnered with Tynker, a game-based platform that teaches kids how to code. Now that's a fresh thought, isn't' it? But then, what's wrong in being an Italian teacher as well? We're walking on thin ice. You can also inspire your child to select from an ocean treasurer explorer, palaeontologist or Olympic athlete Barbie.
From Mattel to Lego - when I was little, the tiny bricks had nothing to do with gender and we all played alike. In 2012, they came up with Lego Friends targeting the girls. It stirred in another debate as this new collection was loaded with pink handbags and lipsticks. The brand saved the situation by introducing us to sets like Olivia's Inventor's Workshop where you can help Olivia create a remote-controlled pet robot. But the question remained, why did the girls need a different set, to begin with?
Recently, many little girls I know were gifted copies of the book, Good Night Stories for Rebel Girls. Written by Elena Favilli and Francesca Cavallo, each book dedicates one page to the story of 100 women who can be role models. The women boast different backgrounds and varied occupations. Examples include Malala, J. K. Rowling, Irena Sendlerowa, and Lella Lombardi. The book has gained popularity for being an alternative to the stereotypical portrayal of girls/ women in the fictional world such as the Disney princesses. And that brings me back to the Frozen series, and also raises a question - why are we not encouraging little boys to read up this book as well?
Whilst all these are great examples of fascinating creations, one can't help but wonder if the books, films, and especially toys should ever be the battlegrounds for fighting gender stereotypes. Aren't these supposed to be platforms for children to imagine, create, and have fun with? Should toymakers, filmmakers and authors be responsible to fight against the powerful stereotypes? Why are we relying on them to be the change? We can be the change too, by simply letting a girl play soccer and a boy make pasta, if they express the desire to. As parents, teachers, and role models, we can attempt to keep the debates away from playtime.
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