Holiday Gift Guide for Girls

December 12, 2012

Dress-up wedding collections for your little “bride-to-be.” Pretty LEGOs to help her build beauty shops. Dolls skinnier than Barbie and sexier than Bratz. Pink vacuum cleaners and cleaning trolleys, makeup kits and kitchen sets.

'Intent' image courtesy of whatnot on Flickr Creative Commons

I spoke with Jennifer Pozner, founder and executive director of Women in Media and News, about the effects of toy gendering on young girls. Even beyond their frills and (seeming) frivolity, hyperfeminine and highly gendered products like Barbie and Bratz are far from harmless, said Pozner. Instead, they serve as “didactic tools to teach girls what they will be valued for and what is expected of them.” In this framework, toys like tiaras, purses, and play ovens represent more than fun and games: They’re instruments that help socialize girls for roles as caretakers and trophy wives. And while cooking and cleaning are undoubtedly important skills to teach the young, it becomes concerning when the more educationally driven toys are overwhelmingly targeted to boys.

“It’s almost impossible to overstate the level of misogyny and hypersexualization present in the marketing of products to girls,” said Pozner, “and the problem is getting worse.” Indeed, many experts argue that toy marketing has become increasingly gendered over the last decade, leaving little room for boys who like nail polish or girls who like science.

So what can you do if you don’t want give your daughter a pink apron for Christmas? With Pozner’s help, I’ve compiled a list of fun, empowering, and educational gifts for young people that do more than dictate sex and gender roles.

Ages 2–5

  • I Got Shoes and other children’s CDs, Sweet Honey in the Rock
    I first learned of this all-women, African American a cappella ensemble in a women’s studies class during my freshman year. The Grammy Award-winning troupe boasts several children’s records that use song and dance to address issues of motherhood, spirituality, freedom, and civil rights. Great for burgeoning toddler activists!
  • MindWare toys
    This educational toy line has received awards from Parents’ Choice, Creative Child magazine, iParenting Media, and others for its engaging products, which include puzzles, mazes, and arts and crafts.

Ages 5–10

  • Genderific Coloring Books, Jacinta Bunnell
    Bunnell’s coloring books, including Girls Are Not Chicks and Sometimes the Spoon Runs away with Another Spoon, encourage positive sex and gender roles, such as celebrating girls who climb fences and boys who bake pies.
  • GoldieBloxGoldiblox, a new construction toy for girls, was created in response to the lack of women in engineering.
    A female engineer created this innovative construction toy for girls in response to the fact that nearly 90 percent of all engineers are men. The toy teaches basic math and science concepts as girls build a belt drive for Goldie and her friends.
  • Call Me Madame President, Sue Pyatt
    Even after record-breaking wins in the recent election, women still hold only 20 percent of seats in the U.S. Senate. Help fix the problem by inspiring a young girl with this tale of 8-year-old Amanda, who becomes president of the United States!
  • Roominate
    This gender-neutral engineering toy lets children build miniature rooms and houses. Best of all, there is no set way to build a space, allowing for constructive problem solving and creative thinking.

Ages 11–13

  • New Moon magazine
    Pozner recommends this bimonthly magazine for young girls, which is free of advertising and diet advice and rich in stories on young female activists, adventurers, and athletes.
  • Hummingbird Robotics Kit
    A spin-off from a similar kit by Carnegie Mellon University, the kit comes with everything a girl needs to build the robot of her dreams, from a dragon with flapping wings to a replica of R2-D2.
  • Help her become a rock star.
    Why buy Rock Band when you can give your daughter the real thing, asks Pozner. Set her up with a guitar and music lessons, or better yet, sign her up for a week at Willie Mae Rock Camp for Girls, a nonprofit music and mentoring program dedicated to the empowerment of girls and women.

Ages 13 and Up

  • Our Bodies, Ourselves
    First published in 1971, this canonical book teaches crucial information on women’s health and sexuality, with topics including menstruation, childbirth, sexual orientation, gender identity, mental health, and general well-being.
  • Arduino Cookbook
    This “cookbook” teaches readers to program an open-source microcontroller, a tiny circuit board that serves as the basis for arts and robotics projects. Kids can use it to create their own toys, remote controllers, alarms, detectors, robots, and more.
  • A month of tutoring on graphic design or video editing
    “Getting girls involved in creating their own media can be a great skill and empowering tool,” said Pozner. Girls interested in media literacy can use software programs like Apple’s Final Cut Pro to make their own movies, memes, infographics, and more.
  • Reality Bites Back: The Troubling Truth about Guilty Pleasure TV, Jennifer Pozner
    Pozner herself wrote this 2010 book, which analyzes biases promoted by reality TV, especially regarding sexism, and arms readers with tools to understand and challenge media stereotypes. According to AAUW fellow and MSNBC host Melissa Harris-Perry, the book “should be required reading for every American girl and woman.”

Pozner conducts media literacy lectures and trainings at schools and colleges. You can e-mail her or visit for more information.

By:   |   December 12, 2012


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  3. […] and objectified images of girls, holiday shopping can be a frustrating experience. That’s why, for the second year in a row, we’ve created a list of gifts that defy stereotypes, encouraging girls (and why not boys, too?) […]

  4. Helen says:

    I love this:) i think it is brillient that these have been thought of and developed. Hopefully this trend will continue, and a greater variation of easily accessable and media advertised toys can be available for future generations of females who do not have to grow up thinking theyve failed if they cant put makeup on and dont like skirts! Equally-perhaps thought into just fading the two areas together-so that toys are directed to both sexes so boys dont have to be steriotyped. Whilst at school i was told of a teacher’s friend who had a boy who wanted a pram and a doll, and were given an action man and a wheelbarrow. Very creative-and perhaps very caring-didnt want him to experience bullying. I know some adult men who have chosen to stay men and are atracted to both women and men who were relentlessly beaten up and tortured for being ‘camp’. This has to stop. I hate to be controversial-but girls who climb trees-like myself as a child-are only judged by their peers-a lad who want to play with dolls is judged-at the moment-by everyone. I would like to partake in conversations on the Rabid feminist facebook page but for some reason i cant leave comments or even ‘like”. If i have been blocked for speaking my mind-typing it-that sais more about the person who runs the page than it does about me. Thanks.

  5. sibbydoe says:

    wonderful article and excellent suggestions for those of us that do want to break glass ceilings and build new women for our future! Had the pink bedroom as a child, hated it! Loved my brother’s chemistry set and microscope!

  6. uniqueaileen says:

    This article was extremely interesting. I will have to look into finding the books mentioned. I never thought about toys being used to teach women their “roles”. Great article!

  7. Thanks for this great post. I will share this with my friends who have girls. For those of us with boys, I was equally happy to see today’s AP story about how top chefs are “getting behind a New Jersey girl’s call for Hasbro to make a gender-neutral version of the venerable Easy-Bake Oven.”

  8. Central Oregon Coast NOW says:

    Reblogged this on Central Oregon Coast NOW and commented:
    Please read this article before you buy your daughter or granddaughter a Barbie doll, a kitchen set, or a makeup kit.

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