A Stranger Shamed This Boy for Picking Out a “Girly” Toy

A U.K. mother is getting a standing ovation from the Internet this week for her awesomely on-point open letter — in which she shuts down the complete stranger who criticized her toddler son.

Rheann MacLaren was recently out shopping with her 3-year-old when she let him choose a new toy to bring home. His decision? A pink doll stroller. But soon after, MacLaren writes, a stranger approached them, and proceeded to tell the toddler that he didn’t really want a “girl toy.” Instead, the stranger advised, MacLaren should try and steer him toward less “girly” toys.

“Oh you don’t want that, it’s just for girls, not boys!” the stranger allegedly said. “It’s all pink and girly. There’s cars and dinosaurs over there, why would you want that girly thing?!”

But it seems that this “helpful” bystander had picked the wrong pair to mess with.

MacLaren writes that while she was fully prepared to fire back, her son spoke up for himself before she could even step in.

“‘Cos I like it,'” he replied confidently — no doubt making his mother incredibly proud in the process.

As MacLaren later wrote on Facebook, she went ahead and bought her son that “girly” pink stroller, and even posted a picture of the child looking absolutely pleased with himself while pushing it around. Alongside the photo, she finally gave a bit of her two-cents to the stranger who shamed him.

In her post, MacLaren writes:

“It’s not about the color of it, the labels behind it, the way it looks … It’s about the fact my child looked at it and thought it looked fun to play with. He pushed it all the way home from the shop proud as punch with his new toy, he told me about how he’s going to put his baby dolly in it and push it to the shops for its milk, because yes, shock horror, my son has a dolly too. His favourite toys are his cars, his trucks, his bus… He love dinosaurs and monsters, he’s happiest when he’s outside playing in the mud and puddles.. But sometimes he likes to play with a doll and pram, he’ll play in the toy kitchen and pretend to do ironing, he likes pink things and watches with fascination when I put my make up on. Am I worried? No, not in the slightest. My child will grow up a well rounded, accepting boy who will NEVER feel pressured to conform to gender stereotypes.”

Slow clap to MacLaren, but seriously — the fact that this kind of thing is continuing to happen in 2016 is astonishing to me.

How is there anyone left on earth who still believes that toys should be so firmly divided along gender lines? How, when myriad studies demonstrate the potential damage done to children by separating out toys as “boys’ toys” and “girls’ toys”? Here are just a few facts to consider:

  1. “Girl toys” usually promote relationship building and caregiving, while “boy toys” tend to promote action and competition. In real life though, people need both skill sets.
  2. “Girl toys” tend to be geared towards fine motor skills, and boys’ toys toward gross motor skills. Studies show that if a child plays with only one type of toy, it can impede motor development.
  3. Rigidly gendered toys tell kids what they should be interested in and who they should become, whereas gender-neutral toys empower them. Needless to say, this isn’t the message we want to be sending if we want to encourage our girls to be astronauts and computer engineers, and encourage our boys to be engaged, nurturing dads. When a little boy plays with a doll, he is practicing parenthood. He is learning skills that are going to serve him well later in life. Why would anyone want to discourage this?

Plus, the little boy who picked out the pink stroller was three. He was a toddler. The idea that an adult was worried about a toddler choosing a toy that wasn’t “masculine enough” is honestly, just ridiculous. It flat-out makes me angry. And besides, research shows that pushing young boys to act “masculine” has proven long-term, serious consequences; it’s also contributing to the phenomenon we’re now seeing of boys falling behind girls in school and entering college at lower rates.

Here’s the bottom line: Imaginative play is a regular, necessary, wonderful part of childhood development — and we shouldn’t need research to tell us that. Three-year-olds don’t see “boys’ toys” and “girls’ toys.” They just see cool stuff that looks interesting and fun. (And since they’re toddlers, they’re probably figuring out how take the cool stuff apart into a hundred little pieces that can never be put back together again. Or worse, they’re likely debating whether it’s possible to throw the cool toys at each other.)

So how about we just get out of their way, and let them play with whatever they want? In the end, it’s just one more way we can encourage the tiny humans we’re raising to grow into the people they will one day be.

And to the MacLaren and her son, I send you a virtual hug and high five from across the pond. Toy strollers are for everyone. Toy firetrucks are for everyone. Toy pirate ships are for everyone. Toy kitchens are for everyone.

Toys are for everyone — and no one should ever tell us any different.

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