Get Out Of Their Way

Benny and Amelia at our beloved Milwaukee Public Museum.

I am snuggled between my kiddos, enjoying a gray and cold day nestled on the couch watching one of our “Land Before Time” movies. We’re resting after a busy, busy morning at the Rockford Children’s Museum. We met some good friends and enjoyed a couple of hours packed with science experiments, pretend play, water play, art projects, books, jumping and crawling, exploration, creativity, and make belive. 

And what I loved most? Not a single gender stereotype in any of the exhibits. Not in the vet clinic, not on the train locomotive. Not in the life size dollhouse, car repair garage, or farm exhibit. Not in any of the science component demos. That led to boys and girls of all ages running and toddling around, experiencing everything and experiencing it together. My son cared for a stuffed basset hound in the dog house while my daughter performed surgeries in the vet clinic. My daughter and her little friend changed the tire on the car up on the lift in the garage. My son fed the babies in the life size doll house and  watered the flowers in the window boxes. They all ran the locomotive, filled and refilled the coal bins, and sold tickets at the ticket booth. The girls drove the tractor in the corn harvestor simulator while the boys collected eggs in the chicken coop. They all enjoyed the art projects. They all enjoyed the science experiments. They all loved the snowboarding simulator, though on the green screen it looked less like snowboarding and more like they were being attacked by killer bees. 

Today marked the 13th or 14th trip to a museum of some kind for my family this year, and every single trip I notice that when boys and girls are in a space free of gender stereotypes or messages about gender roles, there are none reflected in their play. Both genders are super heroes. Both are servers in a restaurant, both care for babies and pets, both work on cars, both like to drive various vehicles. Both are interested in dinosaurs, bugs, and animals. Both make good doctors and are bossy when they run a grocery store. When we are in these places, free and open to exploration, that is exactly what I see take place. Let’s face it, kids can’t help themselves. If there is fun and discovery to be had, they are experts. It comes naturally to them, as it is how they learn about our world. 

But then my family returns to reality and we have to run an errand or choose to watch some tv, and there is a commercial or a toy aisle or clothing shelf that takes us right back to the sad reality that marketers have divided childhood into the boy side and girl side. It isn’t what I see through the eyes my children as I watch them devour the days of their childhood, but it is certainly what I see marketed to them. 

And I do not accept it. Not for my children, not for yours. 

I think we should just get out of their way and let them be children. 

This New Year, 2011, will bring some exciting changes to Pigtail Pals. We launch a second line in February that is a tribute to the make believe and imagination of our girls. We’ll be expanding our baby line and toys. Toys! We’ll really be focusing on media literacy and girl empowerment in our parenting. And we are furiously writing and writing as we (I) work to finish a book that will answer your questions, “How do I parent my girl despite all of this?”. 

2011 is our year, as parents, to tell the marketers and the corporations that we intend to raise media literate children, and that we want their childhood back. No more sexualization. No more gender stereotypes. 

2011 is our year to tell them, get out of the way and just let our kids be kids. They happen to be experts at it, when given the chance. 

What do you want to see or learn or have answered by Pigtail Pals in 2011? Do you have an issue or story you’d like to contribute as a guest post? What about an awesome product or book your family loves and you want us to share with our readers? What issues do you want us to focus on? If you ask for it, we’ll give it to you! 


**Note – You’ll often see me refer to “we” when talking about Pigtail Pals. The company and blog are run by one person, me, Melissa Wardy. But Pigtail Pals’ mission to Redefine Girly? That has been taken up by thousands of families in the almost two years we’ve been in business, and “I” becomes “we” as WE all work to make our daughters stronger. Thank you for joining us, WE are happy to have YOU here!**