I’ve just received a box of excitement from the Early Learning Centre. Keen as I am to allow Boogie to express her creative side and not being particularly of the Blue Peter spirit myself, I ordered paints, a build your own aquarium kit, a make your own spoon pirates kit (she’s currently obsessed with pirates – we’ll talk about their problematic fondness for ‘killing’ each other another time) and (just to show I’m not one of those kind of feminists – y’know, the rabid drooling kind) a make your own necklace bead kit. Well, winter’s coming and a three year old needs a lot of entertaining on rainy days (why do they get school holidays during the winter??) and, who knows, the TV might break down.
With it, I got an Early Learning catalogue which is, conveniently for those patriarchy-loving folk, divided into sections. One section is ‘Let’s Pretend’ which is denoted in pink, so could well be short-hand for ‘Let’s Pretend We Don’t Know Who These Toys Are Meant to be For’. ‘Let’s Pretend’ toys consist of: household appliances and implements (cookers, vacuum cleaners etc), role-play items (shopping sets), and dolls and all their accoutrements (houses, cots, prams, clothes). Endearingly, the catalogue shows boys as well as girls using the household items and shopping sets, so you can clearly see what feminism has done for our children (natch). But the doll section is populated almost entirely by sweet, little girls – apart from when a boy can be fitted in amongst the pink frills and there’s a blue pushchair to be sold or a doctor’s outfit to be swanned around in (which, naturally is blue, compared to the pink nurse’s outfit shown). So what? Face it, lady, it’s girls who play with dolls – accept it and get on with your life. Well, yes. But how do you define a doll? At its essence a doll is surely no more that a plastic (generally) replica of a small human being, sometimes of the infant variety, sometimes of the grown-up variety, upon which the playee can project all kinds of imagined situations (which, judging by Boogie, can be downright bizarre). They’re often accompanied by small, plastic animals and accompanying houses and cars and, well, a whole lot of other plastic stuff. I can happily say I have no problem with that idea (except that it’s all plastic of course and the fact that wooden toys must all be cut from wood inlaid with gold they’re generally that expensive). It’s just kids using their imagination. But here’s the rub.
Another section of the catalogue is entitled ‘Action & Adventure’. Wow, that rocks! What amazing delights must be contained herein? Surely, swing sets and skipping ropes and other physical games, maybe climbing frames with small tunnels attached, maybe even, I don’t know, an orienteering kit – all ideal for the ever-hurtling Boogie. That’s action and adventure surely? Well, sure, if you’ve been living in a cave, brought up by wolves. Otherwise, you can guess that it contains nothing of the kind. The section is denoted in dark blue, so you know what you’re getting before you’ve even perused its pages. And what you’re mainly getting is…plastic dolls (except they’re now called ‘figures’), accompanied by plastic animals (except instead of dogs and cats they’re now dinosaurs and dragons) and houses (except they’re now shaped like ‘castles’) and, yes, cars (which are still cars but tend to be less pink and make less use of appliquéd flowers). Now I have tried and tried but I still don’t understand why boys playing with dolls – sorry, ‘figures’ – is ‘Action & Adventure’, whilst girls playing with dolls is ‘Let’s Pretend’. What am I missing? Oh, that’s right I’m missing the fact that similar play by boys and girls is interpreted in entirely different ways. Give your man-child a ‘figure’ and you will dwell happily in the arms of the patriarchy forever; give him a ‘doll’ and you will be accused of turning him into an effete fop condemned to wander this world and the next living the life of a hairdresser. Well, sheesh, who’da thunk it? As the mother of a boy and a girl, the important question of course is: where the hell is the frickin’ line between the two? Because, like, I wouldn’t want to cross it or anything.