The holidays are soon-approaching and it’s that time of year when young children finish up their lists and send it off to…their parents (sometimes by way of Santa). I still remember some of my favorite Christmas/Hanukkah requests (Tamagotchi, anyone?). This time of year pulls me into the world of commercial children’s toys more than ever. Maybe they’re the ad campaigns or I’m just more tuned in to the holiday season commercialism but every year brings a hefty list of gifts I’d never, ever buy a child. Some of it is based on personal preference: I have an utter disdain for electronic toys whose lights and sounds are like coke for kids. There are others, though that offer so much more to dislike than their sensory effects, specifically those toys that help little ones to enact those awesome stereotypes we’re always raving about. So if you’re looking for things not to buy a child this holiday season, here’s your list:
1. Monster High Dolls. Where they’re sold on Amazon, one mother comments, “I am so glad someone has come up with a doll for girls who are not into the pretty-princess things.” Really? Just because they’re werewolves and vampires instead of princesses doesn’t make them better than Barbie. Not only are these dolls alarmingly sexy but this doll’s voice in the comment section/the comment section in general on the Monster High website is entirely disconcerting.
2. As ever, Bratz Dolls. Sure, they’re similar to Monster High Dolls but they’re kind of worse because they’re not hiding behind the veil of monsterhood. They’re supposed to be human. You can even get each doll’s bio on the website, each of which is obsessed with fashion and beauty. Except, of course, for the male Bratz doll named “Dragon” who, predictably, loves soccer, wants to be a doctor and is “a non-stop hotshot.” (Click here for one LAMP student’s response to a Bratz commercial.)
3. Creepy onesies. How easily onesies, from the words pasted on their fronts to the placement of ruffles can turn a squishy infant into a vessel for enforcing gender roles. (They don’t go around dressing up baby boy’s bums, do they?) Sometimes it’s shamelessly straightforward while other times it’s an ironic quip afront the tiny garment. Thing is, just because it’s ironic doesn’t mean it’s not offensive and..creepy.
4. Justin Bieber singing doll – sings “One Less Lonely Girl.” It’s great to have little girls idolize a teen pop star so he can teach them that their self-fulfilment is driven by whether or not they have a boyfriend. It’s especially awesome when all of this can be enacted through a plastic doll.
6. Diner Dash. Ever played it? Ever let your 6-year-old play it? Well, stop because it’s incredibly racist. I bought this app a month ago during a long train ride, played it for 30 minutes and suddenly found my thought processes turning…racist. The black women in the app are strategically characterized as the most impatient and angry customers in the game and after a good amount of time playing, the message it sends becomes quite evident. I Googled it because I was afraid I was living in the Twilight Zone and found ONE article on it (really, Internet–one?) so I know I’m not alone. I know a lot of children play this app and what appears to be a harmless game actually turns out to be total racist conditioning.
So how do we off-set this absurdity? My rule of thumb in buying gifts for a child is to contextualize their social experience and identity. It sounds complicated but I assure you, it’s not. I always go for books and toys that show children ways of being that are different than that which their home and social environment generally exposes them to. It’s so important for children to have access to books and toys that expand and uplift their exploration of themselves and of the world. They’re creative beings and too often children don’t get to exercise this truth enough. Look for a gift that does just that and think of it as a simple piece of activism against our stereotype-ridden society and against the fact that toys like the ones listed above exist in the first place.
Emily is a contributing writer for The LAMPpost. You can find more of her writing on her blog, “Kids and Gender.”