Friday, June 14, 2013

and there is still a gender pay gap...*

Apparently, I am beyond out of touch with the 9-year-old girl scene. In America, I interacted with John's class on a weekly basis, so I knew what was what and what was "in" and what was "cool." I knew what books were being read and what the latest t-shirts said. I had an overall sense of what would make an appropriate birthday gift if John was invited to a party of a girl I didn't know very well.

And maybe it is due to the current cultural vacuum in which I live, or my lack of contact with John's classmates, but John is attending a birthday party and I am stumped as to what to buy the birthday girl. Johnwas unable to help as he was very busy deciding on the name he planned on using at laser tag.

So, I went to the toy store. When attending birthday parties for  9 yr old boys, there are tons of options. I would just pick what looked fun.

The toys for girls, however, seemed to peak out around the age of Barbies. Do girls still play with Barbies? I played with Barbies straight through 7th grade. I myself never played with Barbies and I don't recall last year's crop of female classmates being into them.

And as the toys for girls in the toy store stopped at Barbie, I was a bit perplexed. Where were the gender neutral and/or next age range of fun? I trooped from store to store and became slightly panicky when the things I found geared towards post-Barbie girls were aprons and cookbooks and cupcake machines. (I'm not saying a cupcake machine isn't fun for me, but shouldn't there be another choice that doesn't involve baking and/or cost 40 euro?).

 And then I found that choice:  make-up  and pedicure kits and hair extensions, all targeted at the not quite tweens. I'm pretty sure a big chunk of age group appropriateness is missing. After all, options for boys aren't Legos, video games, and a shaving kit. So, let's be conservative and say you stop playing with Barbies at age 14 7. So from age 7 until high school, or at least late middle school, what are your gift options for girls that don't involve cooking, clothes, or make-up? There have to be some, right?

The birthday girl was having a laser tag party, not a spa party. I know plenty of little girls who go fishing and take karate classes. They may have sparkly glitter on their shirts, but they have soccer cleats on their feet. Where were the toy options for these girls?

When I was in my last semester of college and pregnant with a son (I was a "non-traditional" student, aka "old"), I studied the societal shift towards boosting the self-esteem of the previously  margined and "othered" girls (i.e., a man is the standard and accepted norm, the measuring stick against which all "others" are measured), that boys were pushed to the side. Many cartoons now had female protagonists and teachers in classrooms were now conscious of calling on girls as often as boys.  This is not to say that the issue was solved, just that it was being acknowledged. As a woman, I was impressed with this shift, because I as a child I  had struggled to find strong female characters with whom to identify. For every Superman, Spiderman, Aquaman and Batman, there was one Wonder Woman. When we played Star Wars, there was always a fight for the lone female character of Princess Leia, while the boys could choose amongst Han, Luke, Darth Vadar,Obi Wan Kenobi and Boba Fett.

As the impending mother of a son, I was worried as to what this would mean for him.  Especially when the shift lent itself to t-shirts with slogans such as Boys are stupid, throw rocks at them. Would my child now be the marginalized other?

But at the same time that I was reading these statistics, I would walk past store windows for little girls, and the child sized mannequin would sport a tube top and shoes with heels. How could a girl climb a jungle gym in that? What parent was in such a hurry to urge their child toward adulthood that they would encourage a little girl to teeter in heels?

For the birthday girl, I ended up buying art supplies. Maybe in today's world, it's way too young a gift, but I couldn't in good faith buy a pedicure kit for a 9-year-old. It's one thing to paint your toenails; it's another thing to own your own feet soaking basin complete with callous remover.

 I have to remain hopeful that my experience was indicative only of the area in which I was shopping and not of the culture at large. Just because I didn't see any age-appropriate items for girls (and certainly a girl can enjoy the items found in the "boy's aisles", but those toys were definitely not marketed towards a female child) doesn't mean they aren't out there.  Because surely there has to be something that represents the interests of girls who have lost most of their baby teeth but aren't yet wearing  bras.



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