Outside, it is snowing. A lot. I live on the East Coast, so we’re getting a major dumping for which we alternately moan, cheer, and wish we had French Toast.
Having been outside with the dog briefly, I’m happily back inside and thinking about the ways we made snow entertaining as kids. I’m also thinking about how as kids we made whatever we had at hand entertaining — you know, play as kids’ work.
Kids don’t think of playing as work, really. If you told them it was a chore they’d find a way around it, but they wouldn’t do it 8 hours a day on a schedule with a single half-hour lunch break. They do it as they see fit. Kids are malleable, flexible and infinitely creative, when we let them.
Some of my fondest memories as a child come from playing. I was an animal kid — some kids are into human action figures, some prefer animals, some mix ’em up. I went with animals, and had a whole box repurposed from holding ballet slippers that contained my menagerie. (There were a lot of horses.)
I’d set the horses up on my long white bedroom dresser top and have them gather around Sam, the black horse with the white socked feet. There was a rabbit with a chewed-up ear I was fond of and he had a lot of adventures, too. They’d scramble over devices and hide away behind lamps and sometimes take the long plunge into the netherworld behind the dresser, only to be retrieved covered in dust and hairballs many days, if not months, later.
More rarely I’d think to take them outside where the obstacles were more numerous and exciting: blades of grass soaring over their wee heads, dug-out holes of dirt they might become trapped inside, bugs as big as their legs approaching with menace.
I don’t recall which were male and which were female. Yes, sometimes they paired up. And yes, I tended to have them gendered up in their pairing up as boys and girls. But was Sam male or female? Was the rabbit? No idea.
My stuffed animals were larger, and tended to be gendered: One dog (Peanut Butter) was the matriarch; she had a somewhat ineffectual husband who didn’t have his own name, but was instead called Peanut Butter, Jr. (I didn’t know how the whole Junior thing worked at that point.) My brother sometimes joined in with his stuffies and we had a whole family hierarchy including the red bull who got adopted into the home of dogs. Looking back, yeah, they were boys and girls. But my brother played with my toys, and I played with his, and we would wobble their necks around as they “spoke” and acted through the stories we made up for them. Eventually we did it so much some of their necks got floppy and they seemed eternally dejected.
So when I end up reading stories like this one, in which an insider makes this statement:
“I’ve spoken with Disney people, and they were completely blindsided by the reaction to the new Star Wars characters. They put a huge investment into marketing and merchandizing the Kylo Ren character. They presumed he would be the big breakout role from the film. They were completely surprised when it was Rey everyone identified with and wanted to see more of.”
It’s a look into the insane, out-of-touch workings of minds who decided that Kylo Ren was the new Star Wars character to back with action figures and toys, and Rey was just some chick nobody would care about because of the “axiom” that boys won’t play with girl toys.
If it turns out to be true, I just feel like this logic was formulated on another world., and whoever backed that initial policy at Disney needs to be sacked. and as Monty Python might say, those responsible for sacking the people who have been sacked should also be sacked.
Let’s put aside the 30-odd year old thinking someone probably had about how Darth Vader turned into a major merchandising/viewable character in the past, so since he’s dead everyone will love the “new” Darth Vader, aka Kylo Ren. (In 1977, when the first Star Wars came out, had someone decided that a beloved villain from 1947 would be resurrect-worthy, he’d have been laughed out of his office.)
And let’s put aside the eye-rolling notion of boys vs. girl toys anyway.
It’s that I just don’t get the research here. I don’t really care how many times you “prove” anything in your hermetically-sealed scientific chambers of selected kids who are being eyeballed. The act of observing affects the behavior of the observed, does it not?
Boys will play with girl toys; girls will play with boy toys. And if you have a whole lineup of characters from a favorite movie, leaving one out makes the entire package suck. You want characters who come with enough variation to make the play interesting. Even if you’re the worst little misogynist in the world, you still want Rey or Leia in there so you have someone to rescue or be in peril or tell you not to do something. And let’s add on top of that extreme end of the wedge that gender-specific toy assignment is really not what it used to be — kids choose toys at least in part based on what they’re shown is available.
We’re the ones who tell them they do or don’t want to play with specific “gender” toys. And sure, with a single toy in hand they may gravitate to their own gender. But given the whole world — a real one or an invented one — what kid wouldn’t want to have all the choices possible? What kid would say, “close that door because it doesn’t look like me?”
They don’t. Adults do. And we need to learn to play better with others.