Toying with Gender Stereotypes

I’ve got two kids; a daughter (K) who’s 8, and son (X), 6. They’re best buds (most of the time) and have a convenient cross-over in regards to toys. They both play with pretty much the same stuff, with very few things declared as “just hers” or “just his”, based solely on their individual interests.

Right now, they’re both into My Little Pony: Friendship is Magic. K’s got a shelf full of the little vinyl toys, and there’s a collection of 11 Funko ponies scattered about the house (a few of which may or may not be in my room—ahem). K’s fave fluctuates between Pinkie Pie and DJ Pon-3, while X is all about Rainbow Dash and Spitfire. (I’m quite partial to Applejack and Big Mac, myself. Not that I’ve got a collection of them on the bookshelf next to my bed or anything. Nnope. Don’t judge me!)

This is not too far from the collection at my house.

Anyway, we’ve got a bunch of the toys, plushes, and other merchandise for MLP, and the kids like to bring some things in the car to play with while I drive them to school. Normally they leave them in the backseat when they get out, but on Friday X apparently had forgotten he was holding a plush Fluttershy. I only noticed he had it when I picked them up. He held it to his chest, tears streaming down his face.

“They said it was a girl’s toy,” he wept. “It really hurt my feelings.”

Now, I’m not one to jump on a soapbox about every little thing. But this got me thinking. I can see both sides of it. In a technical sense.

On the one hand, MLP is, when you get right down to it, a very female-oriented series. All the main characters are girls, but they don’t ascribe to the typical “girly” issues many other series fall victim to. These characters aren’t obsessed with looks or fashion (Rarity comes closest, although she’s much more than just the fashionista), they aren’t obsessed with getting a boyfriend, and don’t just sit around waiting for the big strong stallions to come and save them when trouble looms. The Mane Six are almost considered superheroes, in that they embody the very essence of the positive traits necessary to defeat evil. (Honesty, kindness, loyalty, etc.)

Granted, the show is geared toward young girls, and even I sometimes find the “magic of friendship/love” theme a little sappy. But then again, I’m an adult and can be pretty cynical. (And the show isn’t directed at my demographic anyway.) Overall, the show promotes a good message, with well-written scripts, great voice acting, and is entertaining enough to not drive me crazy when the kids want to watch the same eps over and over. (And the songs are almost annoyingly catchy, too. Damn earworms.)

On the other hand, who cares if the show was originally meant for young girls? That doesn’t mean boys and adults can’t watch and enjoy it too. The current version isn’t just a half hour commercial, full of sugary-sap themes and cringe-worthy dialog and voice acting. (Cough-80s version-cough.) I’ve laughed out loud at some of the dialog and delivery, as well as the animation. Some funny stuff there.

The designs are much cuter than the 80s version, too.

This whole idea that boys can’t like MLP or Frozen or other franchises specifically because the main characters are girls is ridiculous. How about we let our boys know that it’s okay to enjoy something where a male isn’t the most important character? How about we encourage them to think that girls are—gasp!–just as capable and smart and important as boys? That girls aren’t always some helpless perpetual victim who need the big strong man to swoop in and beat the bad guys? (I’m looking at you, Disney princesses. Not you, Mulan. Although you aren’t technically a princess, are you? Carry on.)

This is reminiscent of the big brouhaha that happened when Target removed the “Boys” and “Girls” signs over the toy section. People lost their damn minds. I have no idea why some people are so threatened by the thought of little Johnny playing with kitchen toys, or dolls, or MLP stuff, while little Susie picks out trains, or cars, or Legos. Seriously, kids like what they like. Playing with a freaking toy isn’t going to make them question their gender identity, or their future sexual preference. Get a freaking grip.


X, incidentally, loves MLP. He also loves trains, cars, Pikmin, video games, and playing extremely roughly with any and all toys at his disposal. He likes what he likes, and I’m not concerned one iota about his sexuality or whether or not he’s “boy enough”. I just want him (both my kids, really) to be a decent human being, regardless of what his future sexual orientation, or gender identification may be.

So my son was teased for bringing a Fluttershy plush to school. He was really upset when I picked him up, but about halfway home, he started talking about how he’d like a Funko Fluttershy, and a People Fluttershy (from the Equestria Girls spin-off movies), and a MLP backpack.

“You were crying not 10 minutes ago because the other kids said Fluttershy was a girl’s toy,” I said with a little laugh. “What if they see your MLP backpack and say that’s only for girls?”

He lifted his chin and said, “Well I’ll just tell them that’s not nice and to be quiet.”

This kid. I tell ya.

He seems none the worse for wear after his teasing last week. I, of course, talked to him about how it’s perfectly fine to play with whatever toys he likes. And not to let others tell him otherwise.

I hope he stays true to himself for as long as possible. Too often we’re beaten down by “accepted societal norms”, which basically means “don’t be different, like what everyone else likes”. I don’t want him to lose who he is because he’s trying so hard to fit in with some “accepted” image of what a boy/teen/man should be.

For now, I’ll buy him whatever toys he likes, whether it’s MLP, or Mario Bros. Watching Rainbow Dash face off against Bowser is actually quite interesting.

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