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CHRISTMASCHRISTMASCHRISTMASCHRISTMAS.

I just had to get that out of the way. I’m excited for Christmas. On Sunday we finally, finally went and chose a Christmas tree, and decorated it with Sebastian, who calls the Christmas tree ‘delicious’. My mother gave us some lovely wooden Christmas decorations that light up too.

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We’re having Christmas with the Melbourne contingent of Alex’s family a couple of days before the 25th at our house, and spending Christmas day with my family on my parents’ farm. I’m making Christmas pudding and gingerbread men. Most of my shopping is done, and we’re slowly getting everything wrapped. No tree looks complete without presents underneath.

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For Sebastian we have one big present – an enormous Chuggington set that I actually bought secondhand, because that much track would cost a bazillion dollars new. He’s obsessed with trains so this is perfect. Otherwise, we have a few small presents – books, a tambourine, and a stocking.

The stocking is a big deal to me. I remember as a child, waking up when it was still dark and sneaking out to the lounge room to see what Santa had left, poking through the stocking while it was still dark. It was always filled with little [resents – a doll, lollies, plastic jewellery, toy cars.

I wanted to continue this tradition with Sebastian, so I’ve been collecting little toys for his stocking for the last couple of weeks. Here’s a glimpse at what I have:

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Asides from the Chuggington die-cast figures, which go with his big present, none of this cost over about $4. In the picture there are:

  • Stickers, both foam and plastic
  • Crayons (his crayons constantly break so more are always welcome)
  • Magnets – you can’t quite see in this picture but there’s a cool metal frog and a jointed lizard on a spring
  • Bubble wand
  • Bead bracelet and necklace in multicolour, and metallic bead necklaces
  • Tiny rubber duckies
  • A crocodile that goes with a zoo toy set he already has
  • Chuggington figures
  • Toy truck with a toy truck on the back
  • And an alphabet puzzle that will not actually fit in the stocking.

I always wanted to put a food treat in the stocking, and have been scratching my head as to what I could put in that isn’t pure sugar, and it finally occurred to me this afternoon – a small package of unflavoured popcorn. That will be a treat because we never have it, but won’t fill him up with sugar or salt, plus I can make it myself and put it in a cute paper package.

I’ve seen other lists for toddler stocking stuffers put on Pinterest, but I didn’t like them because they were gender segregated. I mean, Sebastian LOVES necklaces, but that’s something that would normally only end up on a girl’s list. So here are some more ideas for non-gender specific stocking stuffers for toddlers:

  • Sunglasses or novelty glasses
  • Bug chalk for outside or pavement drawing
  • Finger paint
  • Bouncy balls, not too small
  • Sports whistle (this was last year’s favourite from the stocking)
  • A set of keys
  • One of those small weird soft cat/dog toys that moves when you pat its back
  • Tiny board books
  • Bath stickers
  • Bath toys of any type, or even a novelty shaped bottle of bubble bath
  • New colourful toothbrush
  • A funny hat
  • A simple doll/figurine with no small parts
  • Toy cars
  • A special Christmas teddy
  • A pack of cards with interesting pictures – toddlers can’t play, but they love to look!
  • Alphabet fridge magnets
  • A torch with an easy button
  • Special tree ornament
  • Kaleidoscope
  • Stamps and ink (for supervised use only)
  • Drawing pad with a nice cover
  • Family photo in a frame (with no glass)
  • Cool drink bottle
  • A wallet or purse, just like grown ups!
  • Tubs of Playdoh
  • Home made biscuits

What else would you add to your toddler’s stocking? If I had more time I think I could make a list a mile long, but only so much will fit in the actual stocking!

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When Sebastian was a baby it was just easier to gender code his clothing. He wore a lot of blue, and his clothing was cuts and styles more frequently attributed to boys. Partly, this was because when you’re pregnant for the first time a lot of people give you clothes – newborn clothes, clothes for when he’s older, both new and secondhand. My own shopping also played into this – boy clothes and girl clothes are segregated in most stores, even opp shops. And partly, his clothing was gender coded because it makes everyday conversation easier when random people you talk to don’t stall in their phrasing, saying ‘…his? …hers?’

Make no mistake – Sebastian was a very pretty baby and still got mistaken for a girl, which I don’t care about. But I’m just not transgressive enough yet to dress him in pink and frills to truly abolish any societal gender expectations when it comes to his clothing. He can do that himself when he’s a little older – and yes, I’m fine with him playing dress-ups with my clothes and make up.

Toys, however, are a different and somehow more complex issue. Sebastian’s clothes are just what he wears to keep warm and get food all over himself in. But toys express behaviour.

About six months ago Sebastian met a newborn baby for the first time up close, and was adorably fascinated. So shortly after I took him to Kmart to buy a baby doll. Naturally he picked the creepiest and most realistic newborn he found, but despite the many, many baby dolls on offer, there were none that were gender-neutral. I don’t mean the gender of the baby doll itself, but rather their gender coding. All of those dolls wore pink, and all of them were female.

I often go to Kmart. They have a huge variety of toddler toys, are very cheap and have a generic brand A-Z that I like very much because A) while there’s lots of plastic stuff, there’s lots of wooden stuff too, B) their toys are often very simple but entertaining to a young child, like a wooden train or set of plastic food items, and C) their toys are largely gender neutral. This last part is important to me. Their trucks are not all blue and tea sets not all pink. They sell little play vacuum cleaners and irons and kettles and other things that kids will see Daddy and Mummy using every day, and there are pictures of both boys and girls on the packaging, while the toys themselves are coloured red and blue or green and yellow.

There are some pretty obvious reasons why gender neutral toys are important. Firstly, toys often represent a way for children to play that allows them to reenact what they see in their lives. Sebastian loves to have tea parties, because his family drink tea. He likes to play with toy tractors and cars and trucks because he sees so many varieties in the country. He likes to cuddle baby dolls because babies get cuddled. He likes to draw, and roll dough, and dance to Angelina Ballerina on the telly, and he has a little play kitchen near our kitchen, where he will pretend to cook an egg while myself or Alex cook. He likes to clean because people around him do. He is using imaginative play to express the patterns and behaviours he sees the people in his life have.

If pink is a girl’s colour, which I don’t think anybody can deny society teaches us, and all baby dolls are dressed in pink, this tells us that only girls are supposed to like babies. Only girls are supposed to want to cuddle and nurture. Only girls are supposed to have a baby they might know in real life, or see an adult with a baby. This is a girl’s toy, and by colour coding it pink the toy manufacturer has signaled it is off limits to a boy.

Sebastian’s baby doll is called Brienne, and he likes to cuddle her and pat her back and make us cuddle her too. He has no idea that the colour pink means he’s not supposed to play with it. And we won’t be telling him that either.

While there are relatively few toddler-aged toys I see that are gender coded, there are still some pretty glaring examples. I would really like a simple doll house for Sebastian. Unfortunately, the A-Z dollhouse is pink. I say unfortunately because I’d prefer something non-gender coded, and refusing to buy items that are specifically aimed at a boy or a girl at this point is my only method of protest. 90% of the dollhouses I’ve seen are pink. I’m currently deliberating over a Fisher Price dollhouse (here), and while I feel like an effort has been made not to colour code it (while a floor of the house is pink, there’s also some blue in there too), it’s like whoever designed the packaging rebelled and slapped pink all over the box and a picture of a little girl playing with the house just in case the toy itself gave you the wrong idea.

Interestingly, while hunting for a direct link to this product so I could happily hotlink the photograph above, I found a Little People dollhouse that I had not seen in my hunt at Kmart or any of the other major stores:

Genuinely non-gendered?

Little People is a subsidiary brand of Fisher Price, and are almost always non-gendered with their toys. I love them like crazy, and the above picture makes me love them more – no dominant blue or pink on the toy itself, and a little boy playing with it. It does make me wonder, however, why I didn’t see this on sale anywhere else – is it the buyers for these stores choosing not to stock non-gendered toys when it comes to dolls and houses?

The whole dollhouse thing is important to me because it seems amazingly idiotic to gender it pink, as a girl-specific toys. Kids live in houses, usually with their parents (or family at the very least), and love imaginative play that revolves around their lives. Why is that a girl-only thing most of the time?

When I walk through the toy section of any store, I see my future there. Right now, Sebastian has the freedom of brightly coloured toys that aren’t aimed at any gender in particular most of the time. But once you start getting into the aisles with toys for older kids, the shift is dramatic. There are trucks, planes, trains and building kits that all show a boy on the packaging. And there are makeup kits, dolls, nail polish and creepy furry cats and dogs that move, that all show a girl on the packaging. In fact, while the packaging for a boy’s toy might be colourful and reflect the item itself, the packaging for a girl’s toy is almost always pink. Read this powerful article about Pinkification for a much more eloquent statement of the rules at play here than I can provide.

Gender coding toys seems really, really stupid to me. I mean, society has been in a state of shifting values for a long time – while the mother may stay home with the baby for a while because of the logistics of breastfeeding and birth-recovery (and the fact that most men earn more so therefore it makes more sense for the higher-earner to stay at work, therefore reducing the woman’s potential lifetime income and career advances even further, but that’s-another-post), mothers no longer stay at home forever and ever, keeping house and getting dinner on the table by six. Men are now, for the most part, deeply involved in child-rearing and housekeeping and cooking – all the nurturing aspects of life that are traditionally female roles. So if Sebastian’s daddy has rocked him to sleep and feeds him and changes him and bathes him and plays with him, why the hell can’t I find a baby doll that isn’t wearing pink so Sebastian can do the same? Why aren’t there baby dolls for boys, or ones just wearing green?

Why is it that today when I went to buy a little toy bath for Brienne, Sebastian’s doll, the only ones I could find were pink? Does Sebastian not take baths? Why can’t he have a toy – aimed at him or, even better no gender in particular – that lets him play in a loving and nurturing role?

Gender coding toys is like trying to draw some very straight lines in the sand right before the tide comes in. Sebastian will (hopefully) grow up in a society where gender transgression becomes more and more normalized and acceptable; he will grow up with his parents teaching him that gender equality is for men and women, boys and girls, and works both ways – that while a girl can do everything he can do, he can do everything a girl does too. He can play with cars and trucks and then play house and dress-ups. He can build forts and wear nail polish. He can do whatever makes him happy, because society’s gender stereotypes are outdated and a bit useless.

So to toy makers who gender code their toys, I want to say this: that water is coming in to wash away those lines in the sand, do why even bother drawing them?

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