This morning, I enjoyed coffee and conversation at a local cafe with a friend from my Danish "mother group". I told her about how my daughter, Sofia, is already gravitating towards bags, shoes, and hats, even though we have never introduced any of these items as toys for her. Even the teachers in her daycare have mentioned to us that she is a bit uninterested in the other kids' toys, but would rather go into the hallway and play with the shoes. My friend's response was that this may just be a phase, and that it may not necessarily be because she is a girl. She went on to add that she had just purchased a princess doll for her 3-year-old son (who also loves trucks, diggers, helicopters, etc), because he had really become interested in princess toys. My first thought was - "What a great idea! Of course boys should be allowed to play with dolls, too. I wonder if Lucas would be interested in a doll if we bought him one?"
Sitting there with my friend, I couldn't help thinking back to when my son, Lucas, was Sofia's age. He had just turned a year old, and we bought him a play kitchen from IKEA. As soon as he saw it, he began "cooking" us a meal, and he has only grown more and more of an expert at making different types of food for Momma, Sofia, and Far (Dad in Danish). I never gave it much thought, as most children his age here have a similar kitchen in their own home - but when I mentioned it to someone in the US, they were a bit surprised that 1) a boy would be interested in playing with a kitchen and 2) that I would ever even consider buying him a "girl's toy".
These days, the gender issue is a hot topic in the US and abroad. The way society treats men and women, boys and girls, and the idea of masculinity and femininity are often discussed in all levels of politics and media. The concept of gender is continuously changing (at different paces) throughout the world, and it affects the way we raise our children, in the way my husband and I choose to raise our children.
When I drew my first illustrations based on Lucas' fascination with trucks, I found it easy to represent his personality through my illustrations - and numerous parents of small boys have told me that they can also recognize their own sons' personalities on the pages. But with Sofia - and girls - I am still learning. How can I represent a girl who (currently) loves shoes, hats, and bags, but is just as interested in climbing up a ladder or riding on a toy motorcycle as her big brother is? How can I represent her unique personality, while also representing other girls in a more universal way? What will be considered too "girly" and traditional in Denmark, or not "girly" enough in the US? These are all interesting questions and considerations that I am facing as I continue to work on my new series for girls.
This August will mark my 8th year living in Denmark, and after living outside of the US (and Texas) for so long, I find it fascinating to see how much our own experiences, backgrounds, and cultures can influence the way we view the world. And even though I often miss "home", I find that when I talk to friends and family in the US, my years abroad have changed my views of the world - a little more than I first realized.
It would be great to hear your opinions! And I know there are lots of different ones out there, so don't be shy! What are your general thoughts on the topic, and how much do your children (or the children you know) represent or differ from the traditional ideas of how boys and girls are viewed where you are from?