From a young age I remember listening to, singing with, reading, just overall devouring "Free to Be You and Me". Which is a GREAT album. I mean album too, because when I was little that was what my mom had, the album. I remember spending hours listening to my mom and dad's records, and reading books. That was me. I also remember loving this particular album because of its message. I am sure I didn't see it as a message at that age, but I loved the stories, and knew every one by heart.
Free to Be, was released in 1974. A year before I was born, and during a time when to me at least, I think we had fewer choices to make regarding toys for our children. It was re-released, remastered, etc, and I didn't think about it much until a few months ago when it was mentioned in a blog I read, and mentioned on Pop Culture Happy Hour. Now, my children and I don't really ingest much in the way of modern media. We don't have cable, so we don't get reception on our OLD TV. We don't really listen to the radio because we have iPods full of songs we love to sing with, and when we do listen to radio it is NPR or the local classical station. That is just us. So I don't always know what they latest and greatest trends are, is kind of my point. In fact, I try to operate on the, "we get and have what we like", principal, which is that we don't let others tell us what to like and do. I am admittedly unsuccessful at times. So I didn't catch the new wave of Free to be until I downloaded it from iTunes.
Having listened to Free to Be You and Me numerous times now with my kiddos (who love it by the way), I have become a little more sensitized to how I am raising them, and what toys we are buying them. I am also a little sad that all of things discussed on that album, are still happening. Bummer.
When I was little I thought I could be anything, do anything, feel anything, and show it all. Wasn't that what I had been singing along with. Life happens though, and my little self-esteem was not strong enough to be anything, do anything, feel anything, and show it all. I didn't have the esteem and strength of personality I see in girls these days.
My concern now is not for the little me, because in the last couple years the little me has learned to be what I want and not what I think others want. My concern is for my children. Big L is extremely artistic. She also loves pink. (Pink rant: feel free to skip: Everyone always tells me that this is what I get for hating the color. The thing is I don't really hate pink, I hate that I am supposed to like it. I hate that EVERYTHING they make for girls is pink! Seriously people there are other colors to the rainbow. I sometimes buy the "boy" version of a toy just so my kids have some other color to look at. That should not be the case in this day and age.)
Big L is also into accessorizing and making bold fashion choices. She of course is just putting things together that look good to her, but other parents will comment on it sometimes.
What gets me about their comments is the assumption that I am the one who dresses her. WOAH! i haven't dressed that kid since she was three. She may receive things from me to wear, but she is her own fashion designer. Their assumption seems to be that to have a kid like mine, I must be a fancy looking woman. HAH! Give me jeans and a t-shirt and I am happy! (I do like to dress up sometimes though.) This child of mine also loves to cry, which is generally considered a girly thing. Thing is, i am a cryer too. I just learned to suppress it after many years of teasing. That isn't really the right thing to do though, and I used to catch myself trying to get her to quit crying. Now, I just think about the song, "It's alright to Cry". 'Cause crying gets the sad out of you, you know. She and I are both learning and re-learning how to express our emotions. No small task I assure you, but what does that say of our society where we have to LEARN to feel and express our emotions?
Little l is almost completely opposite her sister so far. Of course, at not quite two who can really say how she will be, but I am sure I have a daredevil on my hands. She is fearless, physically, and she doesn't always like to wear a dress. It gets in the way when you are climbing, you know. I am sure as this little one grows and develops her understanding of the world we will have the same struggles we have with the big one. Namely, when do you give in to culture and society and buy the blatantly dumb girly toy, and when do you stick to your guns and focus on the toys that are for all, and actually teach without the kids knowing. (you see, I don't know what having a purse like mommy's with a cell phone, lipstick, etc teaches a kid.)
Instead of teaching our kids to be good unquestioning consumers, I wish we could all teach them to be discriminating and choose things that are good for them and the environment. To consume when you want, not just because you think that being a consumer is your job in our society. When my kid looks at the little girls purse next to the boys tool kit, I want her to know it is okay to pick that tool kit. Of course, mine would prefer the purse, but she would also totally play the heck out of those tools. What message are we sending?
So, long story, or rambling, short, I have decided that this year we will not buy any toys that are gender biased. We will buy books that are girl empowering, and music that has a message. I don't really like all those silly fairy tales anyway, and I always have a running commentary on how a real girl wouldn't be so stupid, or that the grown ups are silly not to trust their daughter enough to tell her about spinning wheels. We are also going to focus more on the things big L loves, because she may be my girly girl, but she is also very interested in science and math.
If you need a place to start to find things, or keep your juices flowing througout the year so you don't give in to that urge to buy a gender biased toy check out Toward the Stars and follow them on Facebook. Some of the things they point out just enrage me! But mostly it makes me feel good about the things we have avoided in the past and what we will be avoiding in the future, because in the end, even though I didn't remember until recently, Free to Be You and Me made a pretty big impact on my life when combined with other things.