My 6-year-old son loves to write. He makes up stories, mostly about animals and adventures, and he has a novel in progress called The Explorers. He also loves to draw. His crayon creations of zoos and safaris put any of my stick figures to shame. At our block party this summer, he told the woman who painted an owl on his face, “I’m an artist, too.”
As a writer myself, I want to encourage my son’s creative side. I want him to continue writing and drawing even if many boys his age are playing with Legos and superheroes instead. I want him to know that men can be artists and writers, chefs and musicians. Most of all, I want him to know that it’s okay to express your emotions; it’s not girly to cry, to love, to feel. It’s human.
Since my son likes to write, I’m always on the lookout for notebooks and journals for him. A few months ago, on a work trip to New York City, I walked into a boutique bookstore near Columbia University. Upstairs, in the adult section, I found a small notebook with an owl on it that I knew he’d love. But downstairs, in the children’s section, I could only find pink and purple diaries with glitter that I knew he’d hate.
I wish pink and glittery didn’t immediately translate to girl, but, unfortunately, due to marketing that has already brainwashed my child, it does. When my son was 3, his favorite color was pink. My husband and I did not discourage this. When our son asked for a birthday cake with a pink Brachiosaurus on in it for his third birthday, we were happy to oblige. But when this same son entered kindergarten and didn’t want to wear a pink Polo shirt and I reminded him of the pink cake, he cried, shouting, “That’s not true.”
The reality is that those diaries at the store in New York were not meant for my son; they are marketed for girls who are encouraged to express their feelings, both on the page and aloud. What are boys supposed to think when they see shelves of pink diaries? It’s an unspoken message that boys aren’t supposed to write down their feelings because that’s what girls do.
Recently, Target announced that it would be eliminating gender-based signage in certain departments such as bedding and toys. This type of big corporate move is a step in the right direction to curb the norms that come with traditional marketing. Girls can play with Legos and action figures just as boys can write in diaries and play with dolls.
The controversy around this change is absurd. Target is not forcing parents to buy Barbies for their sons. In fact, it’s the opposite. More choices are being presented, not fewer, because toys are not being specifically labeled for “boys” or “girls.” If a boy wants a My Little Pony, Target isn’t going to be the one to say—through its marketing—“But that’s a girl toy.”
As an adult, I don’t need to go to the “women’s” section to buy a journal. It doesn’t matter if I’m a chain retail store like Target or a specialty shop like the one I visited in New York. I can find a notebook that I like, and it definitely won’t be pink with glitter. Why are our children subjected to this pink-is-for-girls and blue-is-for-boys nonsense? Why do we put up with it?
I want to teach my son that it’s okay to express his feelings, to write down his hopes and dreams, to vent on paper when he’s upset. But how many pink journals will he see before he realizes this is what “girls do?” When will he stop being himself because society is telling him to be someone else?
It’s time all companies that market to children evaluate the subliminal messages their products send. No child should feel different or weird because of their choice in activities or toys.