When did we decide that blocks were for boys?
This week, you might be aware, that Target announced that it would soon be ridding its toy departments of gender specific signage and colors. Signs that read “building sets” and “girls’ building sets” will be henceforth eliminated.
There have been a lot of praises heaped on Target…and a lot of criticism. A lot of people who think Target has “caved to the PC crowd.” Plenty of people on Facebook claimed that they would be boycotting the store. Some parents even complained that Target was contributing to the “gender confusion” of children or trying “to turn them gay.”
At first, I really thought the move was unnecessary at best and silly at worst.
But the more I’ve thought about it, and the world I want my boy to grow up in, the more I think that it’s the right move.
Androgyny is Not Equality
It is amazing to me that in 2015, one of the most controversial topics of our time is something as basic as gender. We are exploring, arguing about ourselves, the very stuff that makes us who we are.
There are people who think that all gender is fluid, or that it is just a social construct. There are people who praise Target, not because they believe in equality, but because they confuse androgyny for equality.
Of course, they are wrong. Denying that there is such a thing as male and female is dehumanizing. Pretending that there is no difference between boys and girls is just as sexually repressive as any Puritan society, and sure to wreak havoc on how they see themselves.
But then there are people who have this idea that gender is totally and completely concrete, that there seems to be a checklist that determines our maleness or femaleness. The Biblical Council on Manhood and Womanhood even claims that boys and girls are “hardwired” by God to prefer certain toys.
I don’t know where they got that, but it’s not in the Bible. Did God hardwire boys to like guns? Did boys in ancient Israel point sticks at each other and shout “Bang!”?
That’s pretty loose talk for an organization with the word biblical in its name, and it’s this side of the fence that I actually have more of a problem with.
A Tale of Two Brothers
Let me take a story directly from the Bible, the same Bible that supposedly lays down strict and inflexible rules that govern gender.
There were two brothers you may have heard of, Jacob and Esau.
Esau was definitely a manly man. He enjoyed hunting and being outdoors. He was athletic. And he was hairy. He was definitely Dad’s favorite.
His brother Jacob was none of the things that Esau was. He was not athletic. He was not outdoorsy. And so he probably was not Dad’s favorite. He hung back at home with Mom.
The story illustrates the obvious that so many who claim truth on gender cannot wrap their heads around. There are many kinds of men. Just because we call Esau manly, it doesn’t mean that Jacob was less of a man. He was a different kind of man, but we have been trained to see the Jacobs around us as less manly.
There are boys who play with toy guns. And there are boys who play quietly with blocks. There are girls who play with dolls and there are girls who build things. There are lots of different kinds of boys and girls. The sad thing that happens is when we set up these strict rules for the sexes and then say to our sons, “You don’t like blocks? You must not be a boy.” Or to our daughters, “You would rather wear overalls than a princess dress? You must not be a girl.”
I can’t think of anything that could potentially be more damaging to a child’s sense of gender than telling him or her that some toys are off limits.
Boys Will Still Be Boys
I wrote before my son was born that I wanted to get him a toy toolbench.
I also want to get him a toy kitchen.
I think it will be helpful if the toy kitchen isn’t pink. And for all the parents of daughters, it would be nice if the toy toolbenches weren’t explicitly boy themed.
There are also plenty of toys I don’t want my boy to have.
I don’t think I’ll give him a toy gun for a long time. I think he’ll still be just as boyish without one. I just don’t want to encourage him to equate boy play with violent play. If he turns out to be the kind of boy who likes to play raucously, fine. But I’m not going to give him an implement of murder and call it a plaything, just because he’s a boy.
Likewise, if I’m fortunate enough to have a daughter, I doubt I’ll be getting her any makeup sets.
The fact is that most of the way we think about what it means to be “boy” and “girl” doesn’t come from the Bible. It comes from Disney and the toy aisle.
And to be honest, I don’t care if I have to walk ten more feet to find the Legos because they are next to the Barbie dolls. Let the kids pick what they want to play with. They don’t need us adults telling them the “proper” toys anyway.
Besides, they’ll probably get tired of their new toy by the time they home anyway.