Growing up as a girl in America, my life was full of Barbies. Though my memory is somewhat foggy, I am confident I had close to a hundred over the course of my childhood. I loved my Barbies. I loved dressing them in the best of late 80s fashion. I loved playing salon with them, at the expense of many a bad haircut. I loved all the typical girly things one can do with a Barbie.
And, I loved play fighting with them.
The highlight of my more aggressive doll play was a game I called, “Barbie Wars.” The dolls were divided by the “good” dolls, or the ones who still had their heads attached to their anatomically incorrect bodies, and the headless evil dolls, ironically under the control of a body-less leader.
I don’t recall the details of the battles, or how I even came up with such a bizarre game. I was a weird kid, so this wouldn’t surprise anyone who knows me. I do remember how much fun I had, and how it didn’t matter that I could never get my hands on some G.I. Joes.
It didn’t matter because, even though I had a bunch of very gender-specific toys, I chose not to play with them in a gender-specific way. I used my Barbies in a way most boys would play with toy soldiers or action figures. I had a desire to express myself in that way, and my Barbies were best served for that purpose.
Maybe you were once a young girl, whose dolls were engaged in wrestling matches instead of fashion shows. Or perhaps, you were was once a little boy who brought his toy Batman and the rest of the residents of Gotham to a weekly tea party. You may have been lucky enough to have a variety of toys to serve your vast imagination.
There has been, what I believe, a positive movement toward ridding the toy aisle of gendered labels and just letting children pick what they want without the added stigma of feeling like their choice is not for them. I have also noticed more parents trying to make their home gender neutral and avoid exposing to kids to any toys which might skew too masculine or feminine.
While I respect every parents right to determine what’s best for their children, if my boys have taught me anything, it’s that kids don’t always play by the instructions. My three-year-old regularly builds ramps for his toy cars out of his building blocks and will often get lost in some strange story line involving his random set of action figures. Toys are merely a tool for fostering creative play, even if that play looks nothing like what the smiling child models are doing on the box.
Trying to steer our kids toward a specific type of play is like refusing to let them use toy weapons. No matter what you do, they will find some way to turn a stick into a gun or a sword. This doesn’t mean you have to condone that behavior, just be aware that if kids want to play something they will find a way. Similarly, if you think refusing to buy your son a doll will keep him from finding something to nurture, think again.
The best toys are the ones which have no agenda. The Lego sets before the company felt the need to make a more girl-friendly version, is a great example. Even better, is the old cliche of giving a kid a box. Imagination is equally as fun for boys and girls.