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How to Enter the Gift-Buying Season with Parenting Intact

Tips for buying better toys this year, Part 1 of 5

Apparently, according to the local mall, the toy-buying, gift-giving season has now begun. Carols are being played, peppermint lattes are now being served, and toys stores are sending out colorful glossy catalogues for my children to drool over. We officially have 7 weeks until the fat man in the red suit is expected to arrive.

This time of year can be full of landmines for those of us who care about the gender stereotypes within our children’s toys.

Toy companies make lots of money playing into our stereotypes. The U.S. toy industry is worth $21.5 billion. So, clearly, marketing guns to boys and dolls to girls is working out pretty well for them, and they are not likely to drastically shift anytime soon.

We therefore have to pay close attention to the toys, games, books, and movies that we buy, with an eye toward the messages they are teaching our kids.

For the next 5 weeks, I will introduce 5 tips to consider when shopping for your children.

This time of year is a great time to reevaluate what toys and books are in your house and make some tactical changes.

Children’s Gift-Buying Tip # 1

Books are one of my favorite gifts to give my kids. Whether you celebrate Christmas or Hanukkah, they make great stocking stuffers or stand-alone gifts.

I recommend checking out your children’s bookshelves and making sure the books are diverse and non-stereotypical. A quick check of my own daughter’s bookshelf revealed a real lack of books with strong female characters (besides Dora).

Here are six quick ways to check your children’s books for gender stereotypes.

1. Check the illustrations:

Are all of the boys active and all of the girls passive? Are the girls sexualized?

2. Check the story line:

Are the girls’ problems always solved by a boy? Are the achievements of girls based on their own initiative and intelligence, or are they due to their good looks or relationships with boys? Are only boys portrayed as heroes? Are boys encouraged for being aggressive? Are boys ever shown as nurturing?

3. Note the friendships:

Are boys and girls always separated? Are they ever portrayed as friends?

4. Consider the effect on your child’s self-image:

What happens to a girl’s self-esteem when she reads that boys perform all of the brave and important jobs? What happens when all books depict only pretty and slim (“the fairest in the land”) girls? What happens to a boy’s self-esteem when he reads that all boys are supposed to be strong and bold?

5. Watch for loaded words:

Are all animals “he”? Is the word “man” embedded in all the language (“chairman” instead of “chairperson,” “fireman” instead of “firefighter”)?

6. Look at the copyright date:

Books published before 1973 are often sexist. There are, of course, many notable exceptions. But if the book is old, be sure to flip through it before giving it to your kids. If the book is worthwhile, but still has sexist themes, be sure to discuss them with your child.

—Based on recommendations from the Council on Interracial Books for Children

It is also helpful to apply the Bechdel test ( It is usually applied to movies to check for sexism, but the same test can be used for children’s books.

Basically, in your children’s books, are there (1) two girls, (2) who talk to one another, (3) about something other than a boy? I found that many of my own daughters’ book fail that test.

For a great selection of book for girls and boys, check out A Mighty Girl. They have a large selection of books about strong and interesting girls. Girls need these storylines, and so do boys (boys also need to know that girls don't simply come in princess-size)

Time to do some donating old books and shopping for new ones.

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