I was in the second grade when I asked Santa for a remote control car. I didn’t really ask Santa. I gave me master list to my mom and she sorted out who to ask for what. This way there was no doubling up on the Christmas toy action. I put remote control car on the list, but I didn’t mention that I really only wanted Santa to bring me that one.
Christmas morning came and went and I did not receive the remote control car I had been hoping for. It was okay. It had always been made clear to me that Christmas lists were suggestions, and you were not going to get everything you wanted. I didn’t really think about it.
I didn’t really think about it until I opened the remote control car I had been hoping for in front of all fourteen cousins and numerous aunts and uncles. I didn’t really think about it until I burst into tears. It wasn’t that I didn’t want the car. I had asked for it even. It was that I didn’t want the whole family to know I wanted the car. I knew remote control cars were for boys, and I was ashamed that I really wanted one.
My family was supportive. The boy cousins peaking over my shoulder and telling me they thought the car was cool, my aunts and uncles entirely unconcerned that I had asked for a gender-non-conforming toy and only concerned that I was crying. My grandparents, ever generous, took the toy back at my insistence and I received something else. The next year in the privacy of my home, in front of only my sisters and my parents, I opened up the remote control car I had been hoping for all along.
I don’t know exactly when I got it in my head that cars were for boys. We had them in my house of only sisters growing up. One of my favorite toys in pre-school was the race car you could take apart with the giant plastic screwdriver. We had almost no barbies, and very few dolls outside of our beloved cabbage-patch kids. We were super into stuffed animals. But by second grade I knew, I was not supposed to think remote-control cars were cool, at least not enough to want one.
Somewhere between pre-school and second grade I learned that being a girl meant I was supposed to like certain things, want certain things, be certain things. Somewhere between pre-school and second grade I learned that I did not totally fit into the mold I was supposed to. I wasn’t that into dolls and I kind of hated Barbies. I learned that if I wanted to get the hot wheel instead of the Barbie in my Happy meal, I would have to ask for the boy one. Somewhere between pre-school and second grade I learned how to be ashamed of my desires. Even in a supportive house, with a generous and supportive family.
As of this week Target changed their policies and will no longer be labeling toys and bedding according to gender. Instead it will all be mixed together and the kids and parents can pick what they like. My friend Abi Bechtel wrote the tweet heard round the world, the one that caused Target to take note and change their policies. I am grateful to both Target, and Abi for making the change.
Some people are not so grateful. Denny Burke thinks it is silly to call gender labels on toys harmful, and the Council of Biblical Manhood and Womanhood takes it one step further, saying that the Bible supports the idea that God hard wires boys and girls to like certain toys. It is biblical for girls to not want remote control cars. But I did.
It is harmful to label toys boy and girl. It does limit kids. It is dangerous to tell parents and children that gender conformity is God’s design. Kids get the message loud and clear, that they are wrong for wanting what they want, that they were in fact made wrong.
As a child I was mostly gender conforming. I liked girls clothes. I liked to hang out with the girls. But I didn’t like dolls and I wanted a remote control car. That was enough for me to feel shame. enough for me to return a toy that I did in fact want. I am grateful to Abi for speaking up, and I am grateful to Target for hearing her. We have to stop telling boys and girls, children made in the image of God, that they are broken because they want what they want, because they like what they like. I don’t think God cared that I wanted a remote control car. In fact, I think God made me like that.