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When Kids Create Toys: Transcending Gender Stereotypes

It’s almost impossible to find content for my children that isn’t focused on the female body, isn't plagued by gender stereotypes. Everywhere I look – whether it be in classic children’s literature, movies, toy store shelves, or catalogues from major retailers – girls and women are presented as objects. 

Pick up a book about riding the school bus, and the mom has breasts darkly outlined through her shirt. (Just on the off chance you might, for one second, have found yourself ONLY thinking about the school bus and not the multitude of sexual positions into which you’d like to contort the mom.) Turn on the television and cartoon girls are shown in short skirts, with the lighting directed between their legs.  Pick up a comic book and … don’t pick up a comic book.  Even the sweep-the-nation major motion picture that presents itself as a pro-woman family movie depicts its characters as doe-eyed, open-mouthed and bearing plunging necklines – all of which historically have not represented intellect and power.  In fact these symbols are so ubiquitous in our consumer culture, they go without question.  Even worse, they are lauded.  I’m fairly certain my close family members, many of whom have witnessed me become irate after trips to the public library in search of non-objectifying content – are reading this and scratching their heads in disbelief.  What is she talking about, doe-eyed?

I truly hate it. Then I find myself getting upset with myself for not doing more than getting enraged, talking to my family about the importance of viewing people as people, and committing my thoughts to page.  Perhaps I’m using the getting-upset-with-myself part as a form of leaving the sadness and anger I feel when I think about the communal message we send to girls.  And the link between it, child pornography, trafficking, rape, and the increased need for battered women's shelters.  I’d love for damaging messages not to be revered, and for us to think about the implications of the content we create, especially on those who are not yet able to see them for all of their negative potential.   In this swirl, understandably so, I tend to think as a society we're doomed.

So it was astonishing yet so reaffirming when I opened a social media platform to find the photo (pictured above) on a post made by my friend Kim.  The photo, as it appears here, was accompanied by the following message, written by Kim, the mother of the girl, Liv, pictured (background).  Here are Kim’s words:

“A few days ago Liv and I had a conversation about transgender. Yep she’s 8, yep she gets it, and yep why shouldn’t she. Liv just came in to show me the new Lego person she crafted. I love my girl.”

Liv’s artistic adjustments to the doll, paired with her mother’s, Kim’s, wisdom, resulted in a toy that will shift perceptions and change the world.  This is such a welcome divergence from a worsening situation in the gender division of toys. What they’ve created here is exactly what we desperately need: celebratory, beautiful, empowering, unifying.  YES! Thank you, Liv,  and thank you, Kim, for giving us hope, acting from a place of openness, and showing us all what can be.

8-Yr-Old Olivia Ludlam with the Transgender Doll she made Photo by her mom, Kim Fine Ludlam

To find out more about gender stereotyping in toys and sign a petition against it, some strides have been made to "let toys be toys," strides that we can and should all be a part of.

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