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On Sneakers and Stilettos and Legos and Dolls

Are there ads like this anywhere these days? Credit: LEGO

Are there ads like this anywhere these days? Credit: LEGO

I’ve been told that I’m difficult…to figure out. I don’t fit neatly into one box. I’m an introvert but, in the right situation, have no problem being the center of attention. I’m highly organized, but you’d never know it to look at my workspace. And that’s without even touching on gender roles.

I grew up going from ballet class to softball practice. My mom would let me play with her makeup, and my dad would show me how to cast a fishing rod. Matchbox cars and My Little Pony toys were scattered in equal measure around my playroom. I had slumber parties with my girlfriends and played basketball with the boys. I might not have been a typical girlie-girl, but I was never a total tomboy, either.

When the 1981 LEGO ad, pictured here, started making the social media rounds a few weeks ago, my heart did a little leap of joy at the responses I read. Hell yes, little girls can like LEGOs. And little boys can like Barbies, for that matter. What’s the difference, so long as the kid is playing happily?

At the same time, I felt a lurch in the pit of my stomach to see what a huge deal this seemed to be. I don’t have children, and while, sure, I hear the buzz when some company or another makes a toy specifically (and unnecessarily) targeted to one gender or the other, the fact that it’s 2013 and an ad from 1981 made us sit up and take note of how socially advanced it was is a jagged pill to swallow.

I don’t know how the message was received at the time—I mean, I was a year old, and not quite the socially conscious chica I am today. But I know I love the message. It’s the same message my parents taught me. There’s room in my closet for sneakers and stilettos in equal measure, and no amount of marketing (one way or another) is ever going to change that.

Does marketing make you feel pressured to define yourself as uber-feminine or a straight-up tomboy? Have you found any companies that seem to be a perfect fit for you in this way? —Kristen

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4 Comments
  1. Ivori Rose says:

    You know Kristin , you and I are a lot a like !
    Now, I do have a son and he liked to play with dinosaurs, Legos, cars and Barbie when he was 5 years old. My heart broke a little when I saw how self-conscious he was to pick out a Barbie from the Family Dollar 🙁
    I told him , there is nothing wrong with a boy playing with a Barbie. Hell, remember that truck commercial we saw with the little boy playing with a doll house and a Barbie ?
    There still is a HUGE emphasis on boys who play with dolls, will grow-up to be gay ; it’s just heart breaking.

  2. I love this post! I was definitely raised the same as you but, now that I have my own kids (4 year-old twin boys) I see how they can be “taught” to be or act a certain way based on gender. One of my boys has a lot of feminine tendencies (his favorite color is purple, he has a princess toothbrush and wants to be called Daphne) and I see how my husband (and others) react negatively toward it. It makes me crazy! He’s 4. Let him be and do what he will. He’s a wonderful, sweet, kind and funny kid. If he wants a princess toothbrush, he can have one and it doesn’t change a thing! Thanks for this post!

  3. Emily says:

    Yes, I agree! This is how I’m raising my 2 year-old daughter and she loves playing with Matchbox cars and Duplos/Legos in addition to wearing dress-up heels and purses. I find the girl-specific version of toys (like Legos) rather annoying and don’t understand why you need to make something pink or purple in order for a girl to want to play with it. Then again, my favorite color has always been blue so perhaps I don’t fit the typical girlie-girl either 🙂

  4. Tish says:

    Damn! Well written post Kristen! I love you even more now. Totally agree…this has the same flavor as the “If you just let me play” campaign Nike did. We fit in no boxes which is great! Gives us more room to do and move and play any ole way we want to!