I had A Thing come across my desk today that really bothered me, as a woman, as a mother of a daughter, and as my father’s daughter. I may be reading too much into this, but given what I saw in toy aisle of Target, I’m not sure.
There are two “Dads” events going on in town this year. One is a golf outing with fathers and sons—the other is a father daughter fairytale ball.
Look, I am not anti-all Disney princess stuff, if for no other reason than I watched the stuff myself and really liked the music. I didn’t internalize the need to be a princess, etc. In fact, the only sad longing I came away with the fact I could not sing like Belle in Beauty and the Beast. I think some of the princesses are actually strong characters and have many good qualities. I want any and all strong female characters for Lis.
But I liked golf as a kid. I liked sports. My mom liked sports. Sure, I would have had fun with my dad at fairytale ball, though not because it was a fairytale ball, but because I was with my dad, having a good time. In fact, I went to an all girls’ school in high school, and we had father-daughter dances, no fairytales attached, and it was a blast.
I think there’s two main questions there for me—if it has to be a “ball,” why does it need to be a fairytale/princess ball, and then why does it need to be a ball in the first place? Then there are the ancillary questions: Why can’t the girls play golf too? Why can’t the boys have a ball (which entails a fancy sit-down dinner and getting dressed up) with their dads? What about dads who love golf but only have daughters? Vice versa?
Then there’s an “ick” factor for me that is probably not something the creators of these events meant to give out. I grew up in and around a purity culture, which included purity balls and purity rings. There’s something about adding “fairytale” to either “ball” or “dance” that sends up the warning signals for me. It just implies a certain story line—sweet virginal innocent clever attractive girl meets prince, and after some difficulty, they marry. So, why is the girl going to a fairytale ball with dad instead of her prince? Is her father her prince? Aaaand that’s where my crazy flares up, and I remember all the language around purity balls (you know, girls pledging to be pure and always obey their fathers and that their heart is their fathers until he sees fit to give it away to her husband, essentially implying ownership, etc).
In the end, even without the ick, I still have the basic objection. Why do the boys do something different than the girls? Why are they each excluded from each other’s activities? Why does the girls’ activity have such a heavy stereotype and culture conforming message to it, while the boys get to do something that I think is a gender-neutral activity?
I tried to convince myself that I was really overreacting to this thing. Grace, I told myself, it’s not like this happens all the time and there is no escaping it.
That was when I thought back to my weekend trip to Target.
I cruised down the toy aisle—the aisle I thought contained gender neutral toys—and discovered they were all essentially labeled and packaged for boys. The colors were varied, the shelves were a normal color, the toys looked neat. But it was clear it was all directed a boys, since every picture on the box was of a boy or boys playing. Out of curiosity, I cruised up the next aisle. It was dripping in pink, like I stepped into a Pepto-Bismol bottle. There was a splash of white or purple here and there, but even the shelves were pink. All the pictured girls wore pink and for the most part, they were white. All of the pictured “little” girls looked slightly off too—when I looked closer, I realized it looked like they had makeup on, their shirts were just a bit too low or tight or whatever to be believable as real clothes, and sometimes, either the toys or the pictures were…odd. Disturbing. Suggestive.
I took pity on myself and got some building blocks (lots of colors!) from the “infant and toddler” aisle. Apparently, as long as you are an infant or toddler, you can be gender neutral and normal and not sexualized. But once you hit age 3, then you have to move over to the Pink Aisle with little girls who suddenly seem to have bedroom eyes.