OK, so the title of this post is a bit misleading. The reason I bought my 2-year-old son a doll’s house for Christmas is as simple as this: he wanted one. He was given a cardboard pop-up version that he fell in love with, then fell on top of. So I decided to find him one made of sturdier stuff.
After spending an inordinate amount of time trying to work out where the apostrophe should go (I followed The Guardian’s lead and went with singular doll, although I’m still not convinced), I turned to Google. And 5 minutes in I had one question:
Why on earth are they all pink?
Take Tesco.com for starters. On a page that returned 65 results for ‘dolls house’ (yep, they’ve scrapped the apostrophe altogether), only one wasn’t based on a saccharine palette of pinks. I looked elsewhere and found exactly the same thing. Rose. Cerise. Scarlet. Blush. Turns out pink is the colour of the moment. If you’re a doll.
And that’s when it dawned on me. Doll’s houses are for girls, right? That’s why Tesco files them under ‘Barbie and other dolls’. I should be looking at trains, trucks and construction kits for my little man-in-the-making. Or perhaps I could – as a friend helpfully suggested – get him a more boy-friendly fire station instead.
The thing is though, while that would make a pretty great present, I don’t live in a fire station. And nor does my son, my husband, or – as far as I know – anyone else, whether they’re male or female (it’s worth pointing out the friend in question used to be a fireman, so it made a lot more sense for him). But we do all live in a house, or a flat, or whatever. So in the spirit of encouraging role play, why is it any weirder for a boy to play with a doll’s house than it is for him to play with, say, a car, which is just a miniature version of something that people – regardless of gender – use to get from A to B?
I realise that’s not a particularly articulate train of thought, so it’s lucky I’m not the only one harping on about it. Let Toys Be Toys is a campaign that aims to put a stop to gender-stereotyped toy marketing so that boys and girls can decide what they want to play with. The LTBT team put forward a pretty great case for exactly why that matters here. In a nutshell, though, it means toy makers like Meccano might not market their construction kits solely to boys in the future. And publishers like Usborne and Ladybird Books have already stopped dictating which of their titles can be read by whom.
But it doesn’t stop at toys and books. Only last week I tried to find a toddler dance class for my son at Center Parcs. There were 2 to choose from, but the one that worked best with our schedule – mini ballerinas – was exclusively for ‘fairy princesses’ according to the booking info. I’m guessing the organisers have never heard of Carlos Acosta or BalletBoyz – proof, if it was needed, that boys can do ballet without sprouting a pair of breasts.
And there are more subtle examples. Turn the clock back a few months and, when I found out I was having a baby daughter, several people asked when I was going to re-paint the nursery. As in, the cream nursery my baby son had managed to live in perfectly well for almost 2 years. Because I was having a girl, I’d be painting it pink for her arrival. Obviously.
Now don’t get me wrong. As a kid I loved anything pink and glittery. I did ballet. I collected My Little Ponies. And once my daughter is old enough to have an opinion she can have the pinkest room in the land if a) she wants to and b) I can be bothered. But I also had a metal detector. A big, ugly, black metal detector that did exactly what it said on the tin (though I never did make my fortune unearthing buried Roman coins). And I’m pretty sure it wouldn’t have been filed under ‘girls’.
The idea, then, that a toy can only be played with by a girl or a boy doesn’t make any sense to me. Especially when we’re talking about a 2-year-old. The kid spent a good 30 minutes playing ‘pirates’ with an empty loo roll yesterday, so it’s safe to say he doesn’t give a monkeys.
The idea of repainting a neutral room seems just as bonkers, and that’s coming from someone who has a slight obsession with paint. As it goes, I left the room exactly as it was for my baby daughter. She sleeps in the same cot, surrounded by the same 4 (cream) walls. And yes, she’s still a girl. And I booked my little boy in to Baby Bollywood instead. He wore a jangly skirt and pretended to be a butterfly. And he’s still, miraculously, a boy.
As for the doll’s house, I found a beautiful unpainted wooden one for a tenner on Facebook. My son plays with it every day, and he absolutely loves it. And you know what? One day my daughter probably will, too.