I played with Barbies and dolls and Fashion Star Fillies. (I might be the only person alive who remembers them, but I *loved* my horses with fashion accessories.) I had Lady Lovelylocks and Rainbow Bright. I had a baby doll and a stroller.
I also had Legos and Duplos. I had sticks that became bows and arrows, swords and shields. I had rocks and fossils, telling me the stories of the earth on which I was playing. I had trees to climb and in which to build forts. I had crayfish and fireflies.
One doesn’t negate the other. And one doesn’t overrule the others in my head. I loved my ponies and dolls and their lovely clothes. I also loved my rocks and trees and fireflies. I still love all of these things.
“Pink” girl toys are not bad in and of themselves. They only become a problem when that’s is the *only* option that is presented to a young girl. I was lucky. My parents didn’t stick to the pink aisle of the toy store for my sister and for me. We had cars and trucks to play with as well. However, the thing that stands out the most in my gender socialization was that they preferred to forgo the toy aisles altogether. They preferred the wider toy store of nature: one that doesn’t neatly categorize which toys are appropriate for which gender, no matter how much the marketing and cultural forces try to do so.
Nature doesn’t have a pink aisle and a blue aisle. It doesn’t break things up into dolls and horses vs. action figures and trucks. The pretty things in nature aren’t for girls, and if you begin to be lulled into that false sense of delicacy and sweetness, then you are in for a rude awakening, as the lovely call of a songbird comes from the bird’s questing beak, the flower you’re making into a crown comes with thorns. And the scary things can be nurturing and protective: the spider carrying her egg sack. The bared teeth of the rat, vicious and scary, but all done to protect its nest.
When you’re not told which things you’re allowed to explore, which toys are the appropriate ones, the world opens up: Yes, you might still choose to play house with your dolls and your strollers, but if you’re doing it in the fort you just built, and occasionally protecting it from the incursions of the fort house that your best friend built next to yours, you don’t find yourself falling into the gender role of “mommy”, but rather kickass frontier woman (or man. There were boys in our group too, and they had their dolls and house/forts as well.) with a doll AND a sword made out of a stick.
Nature is the great equalizer of, well, everything. Gravity and erosion quite literally work to even the playing field, and even the tallest mountains will eventually be worn down, while watching new and younger mountains being pushed up.
Nature can also erode the gender roles that rise so mountainlike in society. For as much as people argue that boys are stronger and faster and more innately active, that’s just doesn’t hold true for a group of kids playing. Young boys and young girls don’t have much sexual dimorphism, once you take out our culture constantly telling them what to do, which box to place themselves in. Little boys will happily and gently catch fireflies and watch them in their mason jars for hours. Little girls will just as savagely smack each other with sticks, if given the chance. Anyone who doesn’t think this is true, hasn’t seen enough children left to their own devices. And maybe that’s the problem. When the only toys that are offered are ones that have been focus grouped and marketed to death, when the only choices you have are the things that have been specifically put in the pink aisle, or the blue aisle, then you have to make a conscious choice to break out of those aisles. Without active effort, most girls will end up in the pink aisle, and most boys will end up in the blue aisle.
Nature doesn’t give you that handy shortcut. Pink and blue are not common colors in nature, and they’re certainly not limited to thins associated with one gender or the other. When children are surrounded by the green and brown of nature, the sharp lines dividing the pink and blue boxes begin to lose their focus. When put into a world that isn’t just limited to pink and blue, but saturated with the richer color palette the natural world offers, children will be free to choose the path that intrigues them, the toys that they *want* to play with, and the activities they want to pursue. That can only help make the color palette of our culture a richer, more interesting place.