When the (toy) gun arrived in my house, I didn’t know what to say to my daughter. It was white, pink, baby blue, and purple, but still, it was a gun. Some folks would tell you little girls don’t play with guns because they’re girls. They’re supposed to be prepping for their future in the kitchen or some such.
I’ve never told my daughter she can’t play with guns. We are country folk, and we’ve been talking about the difference between toys guns and real ones since she could walk and — God forbid — stumble on the real thing in a playmate’s house. Safety first … for girls and boys.
But when the box arrived from Nerf Rebelle — one of those perks of being a blogger — I didn’t want to color the kid’s opinions.
Moms, what I’m about to say might upset a few of you. See, I don’t believe in “girl toys” and “boy toys.” I’m happy to see my daughter playing with trucks and your sons playing with dolls, and the sooner the world accepts that kids are better being raised with open minds, the better.
But I’ve seen something alarming of late. Ever since my little girl came barreling into this world, ready to climb trees clad in a dress, the notion that girls should have more options has slowly become a push away from so-called “girl” things and toward stereotypical “boy” things. Girls whose mom made them dress up as Darth Vader for Halloween = a step toward equality. Girls who decided on their own to dress up as Cinderella = oppressive.
I thought giving our girls choices was actually about … choices. Not about pushing our daughters to conform to our own ideas of what it means to be a well-rounded girl.
Which brings me back to the box of (toy) guns.
Nerf has a long-standing history of making toy weapons. Traditionally blue and orange, I’ve seen them at dozens of parties for little boys in recent years. I’ve even seen my daughter play with them at said parties, ducking behind couches and firing at her friends.
But she’s never actually asked for a Nerf gun, so I wondered … would she be interested? Would she care? I’ll admit it was an experiment of sorts … I didn’t want to push her either way because I wanted to really know … will the color make a toy more attractive?
I wish I’d had my video camera out to capture her face when she saw the box. Her eyes went wide, her mouth dropped open, and she was jumping up and down, the very picture of 8-year-old excitement.
“Can I have it?” she asked. “Is it mine?”
When I nodded, she reached first for Nerf’s Guardian Crossbow, a Hunger Games-esque toy that shoots out darts in the aforementioned hues of pink, purple, and baby blue. Over the course of the next few days, it came out several times as she shot at the curtains, the window, and once me (which prompted another lecture on gun safety … even TOY gun safety). It’s now been a few weeks, and while I’m not going to say she plays with them every day or has become obsessed, it’s fair to say the Nerf Rebelle toys have joined the rotation of “frequent” playthings. We even had to go out and buy more darts because as any parent who has ever dealt with Nerf toys knows, there are little gnomes who make off with the darts and hide them with your extra socks.
I know, this is beginning to sound like a product review, something I don’t do much of. I knew that was a risk when I decided to accept that box from Nerf (and I said OK to a giveaway too after I realized they were a hit), but I had an agenda too …
When big brands take toys that are gender neutral — or even typically marketed toward boys — and add some pink, it seems the world erupts. Just look at what happened to LEGO when they introduced the LEGO Friend line. The fact that kids were still building and creating, the fact that there were inventor girls and architect girls and other “good examples” for our children, didn’t matter.
The very people who claim to be staunchly supporting equality are in fact demonizing a color … and sending a message to the very people who like it that there is something wrong with them, that they are not, in fact, equal.
But maybe, just maybe, this will help change their minds …
Because I asked my daughter, why is it that you like this gun?
“It’s cool because of the design, and what you can do with it,” she said.
“Do you think this a toy for girls?” I asked.
I got a shrug. She’s 8; I should have expected that.
“Could boys play with it?” I asked.
Another shrug, but she quickly added a, “Yes.” Good, she knows better than to think a toy is a “girl toy” because of color. I’ve done one thing right. But I wasn’t done.
“Do you like it better because of the color?” I asked.
To that, a nod. “Sort of.”
“Better than the other Nerf stuff you’ve played with at other kids houses?” I asked.
“Yeah,” she said, well, screamed (she was getting annoyed. “I like it better!”
“Does the color make you like it better?” OK, maybe I was leading … a little. But did I mention she was getting annoyed.
“The design does!” she said. No, yelled. “It’s cool. Other people might not like it, but I do. That’s just me.”
And that? Right there? That’s what I was looking for.
She likes what she likes. And that’s OK.
Even when it’s pink and purple and “girly.” (note the quotes).
This isn’t a fight I ever thought I’d have to fight. Going into motherhood, I assumed I’d be battling for her right to be open to being a tomboy, the way I was. But she’s not me. She’s my daughter, and my daughter is not a tomboy. She loves her hair long, her clothes glittery, and her legs in skirts.
She may play with trucks on occasion, and guns (or crossbows), but she prefers them to be on her terms. Pink terms. Purple terms.
She is making a conscious choice to embrace who she is and what she likes. Who are we to tell her she’s wrong?
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