Last night I piled the Santa gifts up on the bed-snipping tags, pulling off labels and generally making sure everything looked straight from the North Pole. With the loot all piled together like that: wood-carving tools and cars for the boys, doll paraphernalia for the girls-a trend was suddenly clear. Santa Claus is sexist, and I’m the elf with the wallet.
I’d like to offer the excuse that I was just granting wishes-gender preferences in toys are well documented, and even male and female monkeys have been shown differ in their toy selections , suggesting that something about the preference is innate. But I wasn’t. Santa (as in the mall version upon whose lap you sit and wish for presents) didn’t make it into our world this year, for one reason or another, and three of the four kids have actually made no specific requests. This was just me, buying stuff I thought they’d like, and pandering to the easy wow factor under the tree.
It’s not the toys themselves that are the issue, but the activities that the toys encourage. If my household is any example, millions of girls will spend Christmas day cuddling and nurturing while millions of boys spend it driving and building, all under the auspices of mom, dad and Santa. No one has proven that those toy selections change lives and career choices, but on some level, they must. A girl who doesn’t spend part of her childhood building models and putting together Legos (even model doll furniture and Lego houses) is a girl who’s built up fewer spatial skills than her brother, and spent less time with sandpaper and glue. She won’t move on to Lego robotics or welding because she’s had nowhere to move on from. It’s fine to choose not to do those things, less fine to “choose” not to because you simply don’t know how, and not fine at all to have the choice made for you. Especially not by your mother, thoughtlessly shopping for the man with the beard.