We went on a playdate yesterday. When we got home, Zoey loudly proclaimed over lunch that “I need a lot of Barbie dolls.”
I was caught by surprise. While I knew her friend had a doll house, I hadn’t noticed a lot of Barbie dolls during the playdate. The following conversation happened.
Me: “Why do you need Barbie dolls?”
Zoey: “Because I like them.”
Me: “Why do you need a lot of Barbie dolls?”
Zoey: “Because I don’t have any Barbie dolls. I only have a big Elsa doll, a Rapunzel doll and a small Elsa doll. A and M (her friends) have a lot of Barbie dolls”
Me: “Well, it doesn’t mean if they have it, you must have it too. How many hands do you have?”
Zoey (Looking quizzically at her fingers and starts raising them one by one): “1, 2, 3…10!”
Me: “I meant hands Zoey, not fingers!”
Zoey: “Oh… 2?”
Me: “So how many dolls can you hold in each hand?”
Zoey: “1 and 2” (She has 2 small dolls and 1 big doll)
Me: “So that’s why you don’t have a lot of Barbie dolls… Because you don’t have enough hands to hold them all.”
Zoey: “BUT I WANT THEM!!!”
Me: “Well I’m sorry Zoey, you can’t always have what you want.”
Zoey (sulking): “But I need it and I want it.”
Me: “Nope, you don’t need it and like Daniel Tiger says, if you are upset that you can’t have what you want, go stomp 3 times and make yourself feel better.”
Zoey proceeds to run off and cry in the playroom. After a while she gets distracted by something else and the tantrum blows over.
The entire exchange had me thinking. I’ve never been a very girly type of girl. As a child I enjoyed playing with dolls as much as I enjoyed Legos, video games and outdoor stuff like swimming, roller blading etc. I never particularly liked lacey dresses or sparkly shoes, so I’m not sure where Zoey is getting this from. Perhaps it’s her nature.
Nowadays when it’s time to get her dressed, she will inevitably pick a dress with glitter or sparkles on it. She loves her Skechers twinkle toes shoes and I have a hard time persuading her not to wear her tutu everywhere. While I am not begrudging her the right to enjoy girly stuff, I wonder if our conscious effort to avoid all the pink, lace and glitter has pushed her towards liking those exact things. In fact I have even noticed that she tends to gravitate towards girly girls as the friends she likes best.
All this is making me rethink how we can continue showing her the importance of gender equality while allowing her to enjoy the things she likes such as princesses and Barbie dolls. It is such a fine line and as I puzzle over the type of doll that would be suitable as her first Barbie, I find myself frustrated by the lack of positive portrayals of strong, independent and intelligent women in the doll arena. She wants a Barbie who wears a purple sparkly princess dress. I want her to want the astronaut Barbie.
How do we achieve a middle ground? Does it make me a bad parent if I indulge her? Is this what consumerism is breeding? How can we successfully curate her toys when she has playdates with others who have many things she doesn’t? What if her sister follows in her foot steps?
These are the questions that kept me up last night and right now I still don’t have the answers. I do know I want her to be happy and allowing her to develop as her own little person is one of the keys. So maybe it’s just about respecting what she likes and still infusing a healthy dose of self esteem and awareness that girls can do anything and be anything in this world.