Sunday, August 10, 2008


One of the best purchases I made before we went to Colorado was this toy: the Princess Elise Magnetic Dress-Up Set

It's basically like a dress-up paper doll, only made out of wood with pieces that stay on with magnets. It's been a huge hit, with the added bonus that it's tough enough to stand up a three-year-old's love, which paper wouldn't. It kept K occupied for hours of car and plane time, and it's still a favorite now that we're at home. The only thing I can say against it is that toys with lots of small parts aren't great to bring on airplanes, where you have to contort yourself like a yogi master on acid to pick things up from under the seats (dear airlines, have you ever considered putting a lip on your trays, or even just a tacky surface, unlike the current coating that you seem to have right now, which causes any placed on it to instantly slip like a dog on roller skates on an ice rink?). I think it helped kick-start K's priness phase, but princesses aren't a big deal to me. We just read books like The Paperbag Princess and The Princess Knight and got her a little princess figure that has a horse she can ride around just as well as a knight. Princesses don't have to be all pink ballgowns and helplessness. And since we have a toy castle waiting in the garage for Christmas, I'm just as happy that she's developed an interest in that sort of thing (I have to admit, while I was pretty sure she would like a castle, it was one of those purchases that was as much for my inner ten-year-old as it was for her).

So the princess thing isn't what has my feminist ire up. What got it up was when I decided to see what other magnetic dress-up dolls Melissa and Doug had to offer. And they are:

* a ballerina with various ballet outfits
* a girl with various girly outfits
* two girls with, you guessed it, various girly outfits
* a boy, who can dress up as a police officer, a super hero, a knight, fireman, a construction worker or a pirate


Surely I don't need to point out the problem here. Apparently girls just dress up in pretty clothes while boys do active things and work in important professions. Really? In this day and age toy companies still send these messages?

Well, okay, I've seen plenty of examples of toy companies sending those messages. But I expect better from Melissa and Doug. I really like their toys; they're creative and well-made, non-plastic and yet affordable. And I guess that although making creative wooden toys gives the impression that the makers are progressive, apparently they aren't. Poking around their store, it's not hard to notice other things, like the fact that all of the pictures of children with products are gender-coded, with boys playing with trains and girls with dollhouses, or that of their puppets, the only one that breaks gender barriers is a female surgeon. The other female puppets are a ballerina, princess, cheerleader and cowgirl, while the male puppets are things like policemen and pirates. Gag.

This is really annoying, because I'd like to get K another magnetic doll, but all of the choices suck. I suppose I could get the boy doll and just give K the outfits to put on her princess, but I'm not sure I want to support this with my money. I'll probably still buy other Melissa and Doug products because they're so good, but I'm damned if I'm going to buy any products so nakedly sexist.

And speaking of sexist, I have a secondary rant for Target. Alert readers may remember that we had been contemplating building K a play kitchen. But I added up what it would cost, and then discovered that it wouldn't be any cheaper or a better quality than the wooden play kitchen Target sells. And now I'm glad we got it when we did, because I went into Target last week and discovered it had been redesigned. It wasn't significantly different in shape - they had replaced the mini-refrigerator with open shelves and changed the fixtures a bit - but they had changed the color from light blue to pink and white. Great! Way to take a toy that appeals to all children and send the message that only girls cook. Oh! And better yet, the box our kitchen in had a boy and girl on it, and now the box has two girls on it. Feh.

(As an aside to Target, it's becoming increasingly clear to me that you're trying to muscle in on the Melissa and Doug/Plan Toys-type market. I base this partially on the fact that I walked down an aisle today that I thought had M and D toys until I looked closer and realized they were Circo brand. I'm all for you making cheap wooden play food available - the magnetic peanut butter and jelly sandwich in a lunchbox we got has been a big hit; ditto the wooden sandwich. But I bought them because they were 1) a reasonable quality and 2) around five bucks (the pb and j was on clearance; I probably would have paid up to $10 for it). The stuff I saw today was crappy and $15. I'm not going to pay $15 for three lousy pieces of cutting fruit with a banana that's almost square when I can get a cutting food box from Melissa and Doug with eight pieces of food for $20. Or four entire crates of food from M and D for the same price. People will buy crappy stuff if it's cheap, or pay more money for better stuff. But they won't pay more money for crap. Last time I checked, the way big box stores got into a new market was by undercutting the competition, not by producing crappier products for the same price)

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