by ALYSSA ROBINSON
Please take a moment to stifle your gag reflexes, because I’m about to take you down gender normative lane. I’m going to take you back to the 1990s, when I was all cute and tiny, and when buying Christmas presents for little girls and boys wasn’t such a gendered quagmire.
Best Christmas gift I ever received as a child? One in particular comes to mind: I must have been 8 or so, and I was given an adorable plastic princess castle, which served as a convertible teapot and cup. Genius! It was all pink and purple and glittery. I loved it.
A year or two later, my parents surprised my sister and me by directing us to the backyard on Christmas morning, where a brand new trampoline was set up. Holy shit, was that exciting. And then there was the year after our house had been renovated and we’d built an in-ground pool, when my parents again surprised us with a bag full of inflatable toys and water guns and assorted wondrousness. Oh, and another year, one of my aunts gave my sister, my cousin and me purple Spice Girls shirts. It was the ’90s, after all, and I assure you, we looked superb in our Baby Spice-esque pigtails.
Those were the days.
The thing with Christmases is that there are a lot of them. And childhood tends to drag on for a while, too. So your little girl wants a tiara and a sequined puffy skirt this year? Good for her. Buying it for her isn’t going to tell her that females are more princess-like than presidential.
This is one day in a year. I assure you, the ideas you instil in her head over the other 364 days are going to be far more cemented than anything a bit of pink glitter might suggest. And, of course, pink glitter says nothing in its own right. We imbue it with meanings, and what it means to an adult is likely nothing that will ever occur to a 5-year-old. She’s not thinking “my kiddie baking oven is teaching me that women are domestic slaves whose value is measured by the ratio of cupcakes baked to shirts ironed.” She’s probably thinking “this toy is pretty awesome—hey, I want a cupcake.”
Yep, you can have your (cup)cake and eat it too. Hence my teapot castle one year and trampoline the next. I watched Disney movies and fawned over the gown-adorned princesses (team Belle, anyone?) and I played many a game of “mommies and daddies” with my cousins.
Oh, what delightful make-believe nuclear families we had. And never any bills to pay! Despite these cookie-cutter childhood experiences, I grew up to be an open-minded feminist, all for alternative identities, sexualities, and families.
My mother is a compulsive studier, and when I was young, she was going through her Gender Studies phase. When a famous actress appeared in a print ad supposedly selling a car but featuring far more woman than wagon, Mom showed it to me and we discussed it. If you’re worried about your kids getting the wrong ideas from Bratz dolls or violent and sexist video games or whatever craze is going about the playground, talk to them about it. Give them alternate ideas. Encourage them to seek not just answers, but more questions. An inquiring mind is the best gift you could ever give.
And remember, sometimes kids can surprise you. They can be pretty cool. Another case in point from my childhood: I once was invited to a fairies and pirates party. I went as a pirate. Because pirates are badass, and I’ve always liked stripes.
This article originally appeared here on Role/Reboot and has been republished with full permission.
Alyssa Robinson is an international development student, writer and part-time perky salesgirl hailing from Sydney, Australia. She tweets at @thatsironical.