Even under the best circumstances, buying gifts for children without succumbing to gender stereotypes can be difficult. In the lead-up to Christmas, when tensions are high, shopping centres packed, and concentrated advertising makes children want particular toys with an intensity that inspires nausea-inducing nagging, such considerations might seem impossible.
“It’s very hard to find things [for girls] that aren’t pink, or even are gender-neutral,” says Erin Elton, Sydney mother and parenting blogger. “It’s either pink or it’s about cooking, or doing the laundry, or mothering, which I think are all good things in themselves, but there’s only that option.”
It was precisely this problem that inspired Inês Almeida to leave her corporate job in IT eighteen months ago to start Towards the Stars, an online shop that stocks toys and clothing for children that are gender-neutral and counter stereotypes.
Almeida initially developed an app and connected with people over social media. “I suddenly realised there were many, many, many small businesses making really great products that countered stereotypes, there were a lot of parents asking questions about where they could find better options, I wanted to bring them all together in one single place,” she said.
Towards the Stars launched on October 11th 2012, the first International Day of the Girl, and since then has sold products to parents around the world who want something different for their children.
When asked if Almeida thinks it is wrong for girls to play with dolls or wear pink, she replied, “Absolutely not. I am so happy for any child, girl or boy, to be able to choose whatever they want and be happy with it. The problem is we are making these choices for kids, and telling them from a very young age what they should be choosing based on their sex.”
Almeida adds that the products marketed to girls often encourage girls to obsess over their looks and to be passive. “The problem is, unfortunately, the market is saturated by these choices.”
Because of this, Almeida doesn’t mind dolls (“both boys and girls will be parents one day, nurturing is part of life and play is part of preparation for life”), but doesn’t really like princesses. “I’m tired of the princess thing,” she said. “I would wish that you could as easily find a female superhero as find a princess in media… Don’t give [girls] just princesses, give them superheroes too, give them scientists too. It’s about choices and options and diversity.”
Her advice for Christmas is for parents to “look for great options that promote creativity, promote resilience and perseverance.”
“Young children are shaped by whatever you put around them,” adds Erin Elton. So as Christmas approaches, she is looking for gifts for her two daughters, Lucy, 2, and Norah, eight months, that will inspire them to be active, creative, and develop “a well-rounded sense of who they might like to be.”
Some of Lucy and Norah’s favourite gender-neutral gifts in the past have included animal figurines, Duplo, books, gardening kits, craft activities, bikes and musical instrument toys.
Erin will also be following the present-buying maxim: get them something they want, something they need, something to wear, and something to read. “It means you do get them something they want, which might be a pink Barbie, but that’s only just a small part of the gift.”
Here are more feminist gifts ideas for girls:
Goldie Blox: Toys which aim to girls excited about engineering
Super Tool Lula: The Bully-fighting Super Hero.
Fearless Girls, Wise Women & Beloved Sisters: Heroines in Folktales from Around the World. Available here.
11 Experiments That Failed. Available here.