Boys and Toys

Nicholas loves playing dress-up.

In addition to his penchant for the library's Fiddler on the Roof-esque costume of his own making, he enjoys wearing aprons, hats, my shoes and sneakers, and just about anything else he can find around the house.

He also loves wearing his sister's pink Elmo jacket, which was a gift someone originally gave to Isabella when she was a baby.


Every time we go to the closet to put on jackets, he asks for it by name. He has his own jacket, of course, and the Elmo jacket isn't even Luci's primary fall jacket, so it's not as if he sees her wearing it all the time and is blinded by a jealousy. He just loves it. So, I let him wear it.

The hubs does not like it.

And yet the hubs is not that guy.

Despite being a guys' guy and a sports fanatic currently participating in no fewer than 12 fantasy football leagues, he has never coveted a boy. He didn't put a ball in Nicholas' hands the second we brought him home from the NICU. He doesn't play soccer or baseball with him (instead, he plays with Isabella who loves to swing a bat), and doesn't insist that his son play with only trucks and cars. He's progressive, open-minded, and (mainly) a liberal, like me.

And yet the idea of his son in a pink jacket bugs him. I think boys in pink probably bug more people than just the hubs, too.

Here's Luci wearing what is obviously a boy's jacket. I doubt that this would bug anyone.

But why do boys dressed like girls (or boys playing with "girl" toys) bother people?

It is, of course, the leering spector of "gayness": that to allow a little boy to wear pink, girly jackets, play with dolls, or carry around a Dora purse (all of which Nicholas does) will "turn" him gay, which it obviously will not, given that sexual orientation is not learned.

It's also the antiquated notion that boys should be tough and strong and masculine. Pink ruffles are not masculine.

Young kids don't see gender as rigidly fixed as adults do. And frankly, I don't want my children to believe in the narrow ideas of gender identity-that only girls wear pink, that only boys can be police officers. I have no doubts this will inevitably happen to a certain degree once they hit kindergarten, but until they do, I want to create a gender neutral play environment for them.

So if Nicholas wants to try on Isabella's old Christmas dress, I'm going to let him.


Nicholas is growing up with two sisters, and yet our house is not an explosion of pink and princess. Since Isabella was born, I've made it a point to buy mostly gender-neutral toys. Yes, we have dolls, doll strollers, and doll houses (and of course boys can and should play with them, and Nicholas does), but we also have a tool bench. We have cars and a car garage, complete with an elevator and ramp. We have trains and tracks, a baseball and bat, and a set of golf clubs. These were all originally Isabella's toys. All three kids play with them now.

I loathe the idea of "boys toys" and "girls toys." I didn't run out and buy trucks and sporting equipment when my son was born anymore than I ran out to buy Disney princess dresses when Isabella and Luci arrived. Luci and Nicholas' birthday gift from us is a train table, which some might see as a stereotypical "boy toy." And yet both twins love playing with Isabella's train set, and so I knew this would be a perfect gift for them.

Research supports gender-neutral play environments as being the most developmentally beneficial for kids. It makes me sad to enter houses where the kids are all one gender and see only that gender's traditional toys. Yes, some girls naturally gravitate toward the frilly, girly princess-y stuff and some boys to the dinosaurs and trucks, but I believe that this is the exception rather than the rule. Many people buy their kids (or their nieces/nephews/grandkids) playthings that the big box toy stores tell you are "for girls" or "for boys."

"She's a two-year-old girl, so of course she'll love the Disney princesses!"

"He's a two-year-old boy, so of course he'll love this talking dump truck!"

Sure, these toddlers might like these toys. But I also think that the two-year-old girl might like the dump truck. The two-year-old boy might like to wear the tiara.

And there's nothing wrong with either of these preferences.

What's the toy box (or dress-up chest) like in your house?

15 Responses to “Boys and Toys”

  1. # Blogger Mom24

    We've definitely always had both as well, a train table was brought by Santa for both Jacob and Julianna several years ago. We've never allowed guns or violent toys--no matter "boy" or "girl" gifts.

    Jason had a doll for a buddy years before that was "okay", he's 26 now. I think it's good to have everything (even the princesses) and let kids be kids.  

  2. # Blogger Pregnantly Plump

    We're pretty obviously a family of two boys. Due to Little Elvis' obsession with cars, we have LOTS of them. We have lots of stuffed animals as well, and they only collect dust. Our books are gender neutral for the most part. My grandmother gave Little Elvis a doll once, and he played with it for about 5 minutes. He did get on pink kick last summer, though. I bought him a gray shirt with a pink argyle design and he loved it.  

  3. # Blogger Jeni

    My husband isn't "that guy" either, and growing up with a gay brother showed him that, um, gayness is definitely inherent and not something developed from wearing the wrong color clothing. We have had a few instances of Skyler wanting to wear girl shoes when visiting friends and for a while there he was pretty enamored of a sparkly mardi-gras necklace we inherited from somebody. He also has a particular interest in my eyeshadow. None of these things concern me and I know deep down that they don't really concern my husband either, though he might superficially object. It's just unfortunate that we have to worry about what other's would say if I did let my boys sport Dora shoes and a necklace or two. We're the ones with the hang ups, not the kiddos. I say let Nicholas rock the Elmo until he chooses otherwise.  

  4. # Anonymous Laura McIntyre

    Very topical post for me as its something that is talked about alot around here .

    My son is now 2 , older sisters 3 + 5 and most of the house is girly stuff.

    Last week sons hair was put up in a band(for a joke) , son asked for it .

    I also admit to painting two of his nails last week , i don't think i done anything wrong but it seems all the men in my family have something to say about it .
    To me it would of been mean not to - i was painting my nails along with my neices and daughters and how do you explain to a 2 year old they cannot because they are a boy ?

    My dad claims i am trying to "turn" him gay , i say i am just letting my son have fun and make his own choices . He play more will dolls than cars but come on he is just doing what his sisters do .

    And yes he likes to dress up in his sisters stuff to  

  5. # Anonymous Anonymous

    I have two boys, 5 and 3. They love their cars, trucks, tools, trains and anything John Deere. The clothes are mostly dark blues, greens, browns--that's just what's out there and I'm cool since it hides the dirt better. I have some dirty boys;-) We also have tons of stuffed animals, baby dolls, and Belle and the Beast dolls (mine from childhood.) They play with everything. My 3 yr old says blue is his favorite color, but when presented with a rainbow of options, he often chooses pink or purple. Hubs wasn't too thrilled when the younger came home with a pink Tinkerbell toothbrush one time. I say, anything goes. As long my kids are healthy, growing well and learning, they can have whatever color or plaything they wish.--KB  

  6. # Anonymous K

    I have twin boys, and my husband and I are both happy to let the boys play with traditionally "girl" things. If they want their fingernails painted, I paint them. If they want the Barbie toothbrush, they get the Barbie toothbrush. But we don't actually own very many girly toys. We have a lot of my old toys, which are mostly gender-neutral, and a lot of toys we've bought for them are gender-neutral. Except the vehicles. My, oh, my, did one of my boys come out of the womb with a passionate love for trains, trucks, cars, etc. (The second word he ever said was "coal-car.") So we've acquired a lot of that sort of thing recently. It has really changed my beliefs about how much of one's personality is inborn. :)  

  7. # Anonymous Ness

    The best thing to do would be to buy your hubby a manly pink shirt. I'm not kidding, like a salmon golf shirt, or something. Let the boys rock out the pink together.

    When my eldest first started going to a playgroup - the first thing he would do was rush off and play with the girl stuff, the fluffy barbie heels the *works* one look of dismay on my face - and the women who ran the playgroup - just laughed and said, "Don't worry they all do that because it's stuff they don't have."

    Here's a piece of factual info that might actually come in handy! As gleaned from Stephen Fry and his show "QI" ("Quite Interesting") - and that IN FACT - years ago boys used to be the ones who as babies were dressed in pink, and girls were dressed in blue. Now I can't for the life of me remember how or why that changed - but traditionally in history that was the colour they wore.

    As for the whole ball playing thing -oh my stinking heck, it's all I can do to get them to STOP. I can rarely catch 5 minutes alone on the couch with a cup of tea without having to dodge golf balls rolling underfoot while the two year old perfects his putt and duck simultaneous from the soccer ball that the eldest just threw. Drives.Me.Crazy. I love that they like to play, but I keep telling the hubby, "Yeah it's fine if they do that *now* while we have crappy furniture, but don't come crying to me when there is a golf ball sized hole in your brand new 50" LED TV buddy!"  

  8. # Anonymous Ness at Drovers Run

    I also wanted to add that - both my boys were VERY interested in my make up, which of course freaked me out with the first one, because I totally saw drag queens in my minds eye 20 years into the future. It was my mom of all people that said to me, "If you make it something forbidden, you make it attractive, so let them put make up on, and they'll lose interest." Might have been the best advice she ever gave me. So when the youngest one got interested, I would routinely add eye shadow to his cheeks, and he'd giggle at the touch of the brush etc, then one day he came into my room when I was putting it on, and when I reached out with the brush, he went all, "No NO MOMMY, SIS!!" ("siss" as in "gross").  

  9. # Blogger Melissa

    One of my kids' most favorite toys (that we still own) was a dump truck we bought Hannah for her 1st birthday. When my kids were babies and very young toddlers, they pretty much played with whatever. Jake had a penchant for Hannah's princess dresses and pink Hello Kitty snow boots. He'd wear those boots everywhere! But as they got older, they began to gravitate toward "girl toys" and "boy toys". We're not the type of parents to lead them down the "appropriate" aisles, but my kids definitely choose gender-specific toys nows.  

  10. # Anonymous Christine

    My little brother ended up being gay, but was also the youngest with two older sisters so he gravitated towards what we had, which at almost seven and five (me and my sister, respectively) were dolls. He also loved playing with cars (one of his first words was "Vroom")... Gay isn't a choice...I do think that the dressing like a girl is only a problem to the outside world, unfortunately. You don't want any child ridiculed, but it's such a hard line to draw. And frankly it makes me sad that a kid who wants the same "girly" tutu as his three year old sister, can't have one in day care or preschool because of gender notions.

    I'll echo what Mom24 said, "let kids be kids".  

  11. # Blogger Tracey - Just Another Mommy Blog

    It's definitely easier to raise a girl when it comes to these issues. A girl can wear ANYthing and never get a second glance. A little boy looks even remotely feminine and people go crazy.

    My eldest is 11 and his hair is EXTREMELY feminine. He has soft cheeks and looks girly so we ALWAYS get the "daughter" comment for him.

    In fact, a man went ballistic because he thought my son was a girl in the men's room. I shit you not. Instead of relaxing and asking me on the side, he flipped out and made a huge issue. I, naturally, kicked his shriveled butt to the curb but it still irks me.

    Oooohhh... rawr. Mama bear.  

  12. # Blogger Mary Finucane

    I like the idea of getting hubby a lovely purple or pink shirt.

    At the library I overheard a conversation between two 7 year olds:

    B1: What is your favorite color?
    B2: (looks around, whispers something)
    B1: Why are you whispering 'purple'?
    B2: Well, some people think boys shouldn't like purple. So, I always tell people blue.

    !

    ps--That Australian PSA has been removed, I missed it!  

  13. # Blogger Ordinarylife

    I don't have this "problem" at the moment. I have daughter who is only 8 months. We did not find out before she was born so everything we got for her was gender neutral, including her room. It still is. I think the only thing in her room that is girly is a rag doll my mom made for me.

    She does weare pink quite a bit though. My friends are surprised as I said I was not going to dress her in pink, but it is difficult to find clothes for her that are not. I have noticed that since I have been dressing her in pink more pink has crept into my wardrobe too.. Odd. I was a real tomboy when I was little, so won't mind what ever she decides to play with when she is old enough to choose.  

  14. # Blogger Suzanne

    When my first son was born, I told everyone very plainly and in no uncertain terms "no blue, no bears, no sports themes." I registered with green and yellow colors, tried to go with the John Lennon Imagine stuff that was popular back then. At the baby shower, everything I received was blue and covered with either bears or footballs, etc.

    I've never understood why people feel the need to proclaim "BOY" to the world. He knows he's a boy (every one of my boys knows he's a boy, just try to change a diaper and see what happens...) so I don't feel the need to advertise it. My two littlest have the most fun with cars and balls, but they also have a grocery cart and mini-pots and pans at their disposal too. And the 2 1/2 year old likes to play Mommy by putting on my makeup and lotion.

    I remember when my oldest first proclaimed his favorite color was pink. He was 3 1/2. He changed his mind a year later because someone told him boys can't like pink. It broke my heart.  

  15. # Blogger Kristi

    Suzanne-That would break my heart too. Here's an article you might like. I just read it today and could not agree more:
    http://www.salon.com/life/feature/2011/02/21/son_looks_great_in_dress  

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