Monday, May 21, 2012
One Hundred Barbies
Now and then I like to buy myself things that I never had as a child because my mom didn’t think they were for little girls. It wasn’t that I wasn’t *allowed* to have them, it’s just that her eyes went directly to the pretty pink things and it never occurred to her that I’d be interested in anything the next aisle over. And honestly I liked bright colors, and boys’ toys were often navy blue and forest green, so it wasn’t hard for me to start imitating my mom and going right for the girly stuff.
But when I grew up and realized the “boy aisle” was full of Legos and Ninja Turtles? Oh man, I was pissed. It wasn’t that I didn’t like dolls, because I did. But I swear we once counted my Barbies and “fashion dolls” and I had literally a hundred of them. What kid anywhere on Earth needs 100 Barbies? My mom always claimed we couldn’t afford Legos, and she was right that the damn things aren’t cheap, but neither are Barbies! Where the hell did I even get 100 Barbies? Let’s see… every birthday and Christmas from age 2 to 12, so that’s ten years times about 5 relatives giving me a Barbie each time makes 50, plus countless trips to the dollar store where I begged for a $2 “fashion doll” which my mom was happy to buy because she loved Barbies so damn much herself.
And there’s nothing wrong with Barbies or enjoying them. I’m fully opposed to the kind of “feminism” that tells girls not to like feminine things. But yesterday at Target I decided, you know what, I have a twin bed and I want some motherfucking kid sheets. I always kind of gravitated toward the gender-neutral even as a kid, so I went in looking for stuff like Super Mario and Spongebob. Instead I ended up in an aisle split - just like the toy aisle! - between pink flowery things and “boy stuff”. The girl sheets were your standard pretty patterns like colorful stripes and stars and stuff. Again, there is nothing wrong with any of those things if you like them. The problem is what was being sequestered in the blue side of the aisle: stars and planets, dinosaurs, cars and trucks. In other words, SCIENCE AND ENGINEERING. ARE FOR BOYS. They’re kept in a separate section so that thousands of moms, like mine, will instinctively skip them over while shopping for little girls.
Holy shit, we are sending kids this message on bed sheets. Our children are literally being swaddled in sexism from the time they’re old enough to notice their sheets have stuff on them. And then we wonder why girls are falling behind in math and science later in life. You guys, I loved dinosaurs and space just as much as any kid with a penis, and it wasn’t because I’m trans. It was because science is awesome. But I did not spend my childhood being told that science is awesome, except by Miss Frizzle and Mr. Wizard. I spent my childhood learning from the adults around me that I was supposed to be sweet and not ask too many questions, and that I was going to grow up to be a mommy and maybe, if I was really an overachieving genius, a secretary.
So when I was five and fascinated by ape skeletons, seven and wanted to be an astronaut, thirteen and checking out books on neuropsychology? No one noticed. I'm not whining here about my gifts not being nurtured by expensive things like space camp and trips to far-away science museums. I'm saying my interest in science was entirely overlooked. For comparison, I was an early reader and my family jumped on this and piled me up with loads of books and spent tons of time reading to me and teaching me how to spell. I'm grateful for this attention, but just like I wonder how many of those 100 Barbies could've been Legos or dinosaurs instead, I also wonder if some of that reading time couldn't have been spent designing marble runs or making baking soda volcanoes.
The fact is, my family - which consisted mostly of women raised in the 1960s and earlier - didn't encourage me in science because they were afraid of it. No one had ever taught them any science beyond how to keep a cake from falling. Similarly, my Girl Scout leaders erred on the side of making construction paper placemats instead of models of the solar system. I was a little girl being raised by women who were told they couldn't do science either.
Speaking of the Girl Scouts, the GSUSA has set a goal of creating gender-balanced leadership - including in fields like science and math - in one generation. That's a lofty goal, and one I'm glad they're bold enough to go for. And I would argue that if we're going to do it, we're going to have to start by de-gendering things like Legos and dinosaur sheets. Which I bought. Not because I'm a boy now and boys buy dinosaur sheets, but because I'm an adult now and I realize science isn't a gender. And because dinosaurs are awesome.