I’m raising two boys, and it is exhausting — but not for the reasons you might expect.
It’s not because they’re “gross” or “loud” or “stinky” or “roughhousing” all the time. All kids can be those things at any given moment. What is truly exhausting is always running into sexism and violence in toys, TV shows, movies, and advertising and having to be the one to call it out.
It is no fun always being the “bad guy” and saying no to buying those things they “just have to have”. I have to hear “but Mom” and exasperated sighs — but the alternative is for me to ignore it, and they believe that I condone that kind of thing and then incorporate those values into their behavior.
My oldest son likes to ask my husband and me what toys we played with or what shows and movies we watched when we were his age. This is problematic because, looking back, I realized just how much violence they contained.
One of my favorite shows I used to watch was Inspector Gadget. I loved that Penny was the one usually saving the day with her computer book, and I thought she had some pretty cool gadgets. However, her boss always got stuck with the self-destructing secret message. But the boss always survived the explosion and just had a little black soot on his face (yeah, that’s realistic). Seeing this kind of thing over and over desensitizes kids to violence, and they start to act out what they see. I don’t want that for my sons.
Other things I’m having to constantly call out are the stereotypes about what boys or girls should do or like, or the lack of girl characters in shows that aren’t princess related. Sexism abounds in kids’ shows. And it’s not just in-your-face-sexism, but small, minute, repetitive messages as well. If you’re constantly exposed to negative stereotypes or messages about prescribed gender roles, it’s going to sink in. You’re going to start to see that as the way the world works unless someone calls it out.
So, this Mother’s Day, I’m giving myself a break. Not a break from calling out sexism when I see it, but from feeling guilty about not giving my kids the cool toy or letting them watch the awesome new show because it is rife with violence or negative stereotypes.
I provide for them what they need (shelter, food, clothes, education, love, etc…). I will no longer feel guilty about not buying them Ninja Turtles (even though I watched the show as a kid) or Transformers (even though my husband loved them as a kid) or anything else that centers on violence and weapons. Sure, there are some good messages in the kids’ shows today, but it just requires too much work to weed through the negative messages to get to the good.
I would love it if the toy companies got off their lazy butts and came up with new toy concepts. I want to see toys that are marketed to all kids — toys that are positive, diverse (in ethnicity, body type, ability, etc…), have good storylines (not just “good guys” and “bad guys”), and allow kids to be themselves without prescribing what boys and girls should do, look like, etc…
My son’s 6th birthday is coming up soon, and I’m not impressed with the majority of the toys and shows out there. I want to spend my money on toys and shows that teach kids our family values. I want my sons to have empathy, acceptance, and respect for all people. I want them to work for social justice, do community service, and follow their dreams based on their interests and not some prescribed restrictive traditional male gender roles.
I know there are other parents out there dealing with the same issue. What toys and shows have you found that promote gender equality and leave out the violence?
Gretchen Edwards-Bodmer is a curvy grrrl from Virginia with a Master’s degree in Humanities and Women’s Studies. You can find her musings about raising two boys in this crazy world at www.Grrrlwithboys.com and follow her on Twitter @GrrrlWithBoys.