If you have a kid between three and seven and don’t have an utterly screenless existence, you probably know that the current rage is Paw Patrol, a TV show/toy franchise about a team of rescue pups who… well… let’s just say that whenever there is trouble around Adventure Bay, Ryder and his team of pups are there to save the day.
Our boy’s favorite non-Lego toys over the past few months have been Paw Patrol pups that come with badges and backpacks that open up and do stuff. One is Skye, the only girl in the original pup line-up of six (they’ve since added another to the show). We found that while the other pups weren’t too hard to find, Skye was nearly impossible to find. And the reason was obvious: Girls love Paw Patrol as much as boys. Girls want Skye.
But Byron also loves Skye. And he wanted use to round out the set. So for months we were regularly and fruitlessly checking the ransacked shelves at Target and Toys R Us, where, for reasons that can only be explained by recent news and public opinion, we would find only piles of unpurchased Chase toys (Chase is the police dog).
Byron also noted that most of the merchandise featuring all the pups never had Skye. She wasn’t on the shirts, or the party plates. He was confused, and the message must have started sinking in: Skye isn’t on my shirts because as a boy I’m not supposed to want her on my shirt. Skye isn’t on the paper plates because she is less important than the boy pups. And that’s where we have to intervene, affirming for Byron that it’s OK to like Skye and the companies are dumb for leaving her off.
Byron also likes Lego Friends and Lego Elves. He likes the unicorn girl minifigure almost as much as the alien trooper. He likes Shannon Hale’s Princess in Black and Bratz and some show about a fairy tale high school with mostly girl characters. But he isn’t a feminist superkid just yet. I can see the culture taking its toll, his occasional grimness when offered a book about a girl, especially if she’s not an animal. He will opt for the space robot action figure over the big-eyed kitty every time at McDonald’s, and the fact that eyes are on him and one is described by the cashier as a ‘boy toy’ certainly influences him. And he’s not even in school yet, where other boys will surely coach him on despising girls and things for girls.
The gender splitting I’ve complained about in books is extreme in toys and television, so appalling I really can’t believe how passively parents accept it. Why must any mixed-gender franchise be 5/6 boys? Why did all the superheroes from my childhood go on steroids? Why do all of the Lego girls come in slimmed down from the classic, sturdy, Lego minifig body? For that matter, why do you have to paint a six pack on the male figures, on top of their uniforms? I don’t mind that the girls in that fairy tale show talk about dating and dresses, but why can’t boy characters ever show a little vulnerability, be a little smitten, be a little concerned about how others perceive them?
There’s lots more I want to say here, so I’ll have to come back to it. Suffice to say that kids are sufficiently assaulted with gender role expectations before they reach Kindergarten, and it’s maddening. Books are the least of the problem. The bigger part of the problem is everything else: clothes, toys, movies, TV, even breakfast cereal boxes.
Incidentally, Byron did not want to be photographed with Skye, and seen playing with a girl toy, but his mother told him that it’s important for the world to see that boys can play with girl toys. That’s what convinced him. Good work, B.