• Mama PhD

    Mothers attempting to balance parenthood and academics.


Toying with Gender

Difficult questions.

December 11, 2013

I’ve been following the new Goldiblox products, which encourage girls to play games that promise to foster science and engineering skills. Sheryl Sandberg is telling me (through national media) that I should let my daughters play video games. On the other hand, critics are holding the toy industry to task for creating “girly” science products.

It’s all so confusing. I’ve been looking around at our stacked Chanukah gifts, and clearly I’m breaking all the rules. My son got a video game and Lego Star Wars, while my daughters were given doll clothes and Lego Friends. Yes, they are Legos, but Lego Friends are conceived around a story, and they tend to be pink. Am I supposed to feel bad because my son is building some type of stealth spaceship and my daughter is building a Lego cruise ship (complete with mini swimming pool!). I’ve already heard my son re-enacting World War II battle scenes, while my daughters are planning a trip for their babies. My son, when taking a break from his war scenes, is glued to Minecraft or playing other video games. My girls have their Barbies out and are playing school.

In fact, I think my daughters are having a better play experience. They are using their imagination and thinking up stories. However, my son is building strategy skills. Does this mean only my son has a real shot at becoming an engineer? Yesterday, I read about a new study that has found people may be doomed to a lifetime of walking around saying “I’m not good at math” if they do not learn key math skills before first grade. I guess I’ve got to get busy introducing my five-year old to mathematical concepts during breakfast; she’s my only child still within the window.

All this advice, competing advertising, and academic studies makes me feel as a parent that I have so much power and control, and that I had better use that power wisely. This feeling contrasts with my everyday experience. In my real parental life, I just don’t always feel that I have much influence. Yes, I’d like to think they are developing my deeper values. They totally think that men are the ones who sew buttons (because only my husband possesses that skill in our family), that’s it is normal to read while you are eating (I always have a book out), and (of course) to be kind. But, many of their likes and dislikes and what makes them who they are seem to emerge in spite of my efforts, not because of them. My middle daughter loves fashion (despite my influence, as you know from my earlier posts). My son wants to be different and doesn’t really care what others think, even when I encourage him to be aware of the effects of his actions on others.

So, these studies merely remind me that I think my job is to expose children to worlds outside their own and give them possibilities. I will buy that GoldieBlox toy (or another building toy without so much pink) so my girls can imagine themselves as engineers, but I’m not going to feel bad for letting them enjoy toys that were a part of my childhood or believe that a toy will make them who they are.


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