Let’s Discuss: Gender Stereotypes and Our Little Ones

Warning: This post has nothing to do with keeping kosher, nor with doing it on a budget!

My daughter is turning two at the end of the month, as those of you on Facebook may already know. I had asked for some advice on what to get her – and you all had loads of great ideas.

One suggestion struck me in particular: Dress-up jewelry. Every morning, my daughter reaches for the pin on our preschool director’s lapel, and she is constantly pulling at my mom’s earrings and necklaces. Plus, since the only jewelry I wear is my engagement ring and wedding band, I thought some sparkly stuff of her own might be kind of fun.

I jumped over to Amazon and searched for play jewelry for toddlers. I scanned the first three pages of offerings and gave up. Almost every single item was excruciatingly “girly”. Pink. Plastic. Disney Princess.


As I tried to figure out why I was having such a visceral reaction to the jewelry selection, I realized (yet again) that as a mom to two older sons, I REALLY prefer the stereotypically boy stuff.

When my daughter was first born, people – including random strangers at the post office – kept saying, “Oh, you finally got your girl!” (ANNOYING), usually followed by “You are going to LOVE dressing her!”

While I will admit that some of the little dresses are very cute, I put my foot down at bibs that declare, Diva in Training, or onesies that ask, Does this make my tush look big?.

Still today, I bristle at the racks of pink tutus at Costco. Must every girl own a tutu? And don’t even get me started on the “skinny” jeans … or the ones that are cut to make her look like she has hips.

Even when it comes to toys, my daughter has nothing that’s overtly girly.Β  Whether it’s my counter-cultural streak or some hang-up I’ve got against gender stereotypes, I’m just not comfortable in the pink aisles at the store.

Instead she has wooden trains, chunky puzzles, a wooden kitchen – with nice, gender-neutral wooden play food (from Plan Toys), a number of dollies and oodles of balls and MegaBlocks. But these were all toys that my sons had first, and passed down to their sister.

She did get her own baby doll for her Chanukah, but then so did my boys at that age. And it was a woolen Waldorf number – hardly something fit for a “princess”.

So here I am, encumbered by my anti-mainstream attitude about toys and clothes, searching for play jewelry for my daughter, and wondering: Are these hang-ups of mine even legitimate? Does any of this really matter?

Can’t a girl whose room is plastered with Disney Princesses still grow up to be the next Betty Friedan? Can’t a boy who plays with John Deere tractors still grow up to respect women as his intellectual equals?

I also wonder: Are the toys and clothes creating the differences? Or do they simply attract them?

And as moms, at what point do our own attitudes – about beauty and weight and self-image – affect our choices for our young daughters? A little girl playing with her mom’s makeup is a rite of passage. But what about the six year-old on a diet? Or the eight-year old injected with Botax by her mom?

I’d really love to hear your thoughts on any and all of the above – even if you’re totally down with the princesses.

(Shabbat Shalom!)


  1. Can’t a girl whose room is plastered with Disney Princesses still grow up to be the next Betty Friedan? Can’t a boy who plays with John Deere tractors still grow up to respect women as his intellectual equals?

    Yes and Yes – it’s far more about the lessons they are taught. If anything, knowing that men and women usually have their own preferences and are still equal is a better message than equality = conformity to the other/away from one’s own stereotypes.

    Letting a little girl enjoy being a dress up princess… and play ball, too. πŸ™‚

  2. I do understand what you mean, but I don’t agree completely. I think you should get her “Free to Be, You and Me”. It addresses the idea that boys and girls should be free to just be whatever they want, and like and do whatever they want.

    When it comes to the Princesses specifically, the only problem I have is that someone once pointed out to me what The Little Mermaid is really all about – a girl who defies her father and still gets everything she wants, AND intermarries to boot! That really ruined it for me. Show her Belle – at least she likes to read! πŸ™‚

    • caroline says

      Disney actually made Belle into a reader specifically because of concerns related to The Little Mermaid!

  3. I agree with Ezzie. What you show them will be more influential than what they play with. And seriously, my kids still play with boxes, light switches and brooms waaay more than their actual toys.

    Also, I think that if you’re tuned into your kids (which I have no doubt you are), you’ll see if any potential negativity from princessification arises, and you can squelch it.

    Anyways, I only have two (little) boys, so I’m no help on the girlie questions. But Botox for an 8-year-old? Who DOES that? Ew.

  4. As a mom of two little girls the gender issues do worry me. But my 3 and a half year old is REALLY girly. We bought her trucks AND dolls and a kitchen and blocks, all of which she plays with, however she insists on wearing only skirts and dresses and loves wearing frilly frothy dresses on Shabbat. We indulge her wardrobe desires because i have no issues with her choices (no mini skirts and shirts that they brat or pants that say juicy on the tush for us), and i believe that children should choose their own clothes within reason. (and her room does have Tinkerbell wall stickers on it, again her choice)
    That said, i can’t stand the pinkness of the toy aisle these days! Every toy that comes out has a pink counter toy, seriously, what is up with that?? I mean seriously, does every puppy, fish and dun need to come in pink? ok, i admit it i like pink, but in normal doses, not in overly mega doses.
    Anyhow, I have no issues with princess/fairy stuff at this age, as long as we don’t end up in the Britney Spears gold lame halter top phase i think we’ll be ok.

  5. Stephanie says

    I totally relate to your struggle. We have a son who eschewed the doll we gave him to play with for stereotypical trucks and trains. Though he did go through a phase at age two when his favorite color was pink.

    Our two-year-old daughter naturally seems to gravitate toward jewelry, tutus, hair ribbons, and my make up. Once a friend introduced her to ‘Cinderella’ when we were guests for Shabbat dinner, it seemed to be all over. They played dress up all night, high heeled slippers and all.

    We draw the line, though, at buying into the merchandising. For her birthday, we bought her a kid-sized straw broom and a hand powered egg beater. She received her own kid-sized oilcloth apron to wear when she helps me in the kitchen. She has not seen any Disney princess movies. We do not purchase Disney princess merchandise. (We try to avoid trademarked boy toys, too – like Thomas the Tank Engine or Bob the Builder.) Her tutu was handmade by grandma with no invitation from us. We let her keep it because it gives them both such joy. Ditto for the hair ribbons. She only wears them occasionally. Her handbags are castoffs or garage sale finds. She wears a necklace I received for my bat mitzvah when she sees me dress up and put one on. There is no manicure in her immediate future. We intervene with anyone who suggests that her thighs are fat or that she eats too much (which began, no joke, when she was six months old).

    I agree with the comment about the message of Free to Be You and Me – I try to be attuned to what my kids like, whether or not that choice is stereotypically male or female. I also agree with the comment about looking at the messages of the movies. I bristle at merchandising and advertising, but our kids are influenced by a lot of people besides us. Be clear about what you value, and why, and talk with your kids about the choices you make. That’s what parenting is all about.

  6. When I bought my kids a wooden play kitchen, I heard multiple times, “but don’t you have boys?” I’d just respond, “Name 3 famous chefs.” All men. So, I say… name 3 famous jewelry designers… πŸ˜‰

    If you want to do jewelry, there’s no need to compromise on the plastic/shiny/Made In China crap. Check out Melissa & Doug, they’ve got awesome stuff, like this set, which is educational (letters) and girly (colorful, jewelry), and enhances practical life skills (stringing, arranging/ordering).


  7. We don’t encourage it per se, but the Disney princess stuff just seemed to happen on its own. I do not want my daughter to grow up thinking that she needs to fit into a certain image in order to be “princess”, so we just discuss how being a princess is really on the inside. Someone mentioned Ariel – I don’t know about her (although she did save the guy from drowning), but almost all the princesses are kind, to people and to animals, and that is the lesson that I try to instill.

  8. You guys are so smart! I love this discussion, and hearing about how these issues manifest themselves in your families. Thanks so much for chiming in — and for indulging my totally off-topic post.

  9. My little guy like to wear jewely. He usually makes them himself. If you dont want girly for her birthday, get her some beads and a string and let her make her own! Oh, and his favorite color is pink! And you know him, he is very much a BOY!!!

    Shabbat Shalom πŸ™‚

  10. Mara – I totally share your struggle. My little one just turned two this week and we are focusing on letter books and puzzles, and Elmo. DD1 (age 4) does have a few princess things / old ballet outfits that she got as hand me downs, but we try to encourage her to dress up as a doctor or paramedic at least as much as a princess or ballerina. It is amazing how DD1 gravitates towards bags, telephones and tutus, because I am so NOT into those things. I am, however, struggling with makeup. I have recently been making an effort in my job to look more professional, so I have started wearing makeup and jewelery more often. When DD1 sees me putting on makeup, she always wants to as well. I tell her that she is already beautiful and doesn’t need makeup, but I let her put on clear lip gloss.

    I used to think that all the Disney princess stuff was annoying, but not harmful, but then I heard this author speak.


    I even paid full retail to buy her book and have her sign it (gasp!). She suggests that there is a slippery slope from dressing like a fairy princess (Cinderealla, Ariel, Belle) to dressing like a real princess (Molly Cyrus, etc) and that these send the message that it is more important to look a certain way, than to act, think and treat others a certain way. Check it out, it might be interesting to you and your readers.

  11. Orthonomics says

    I see someone else has mentioned the book above. I haven’t read it yet, but someone I respect and trust mentioned it and I’ve been looking for it to hit the library shelf.

  12. I don’t do the Disney Princesses. My little princess knows she shouldn’t even ask. πŸ™‚ I see someone just posted about the great book, Cinderella Ate My Daughter. This woman wanted her d to grow up thinking she could do anything, etc etc, and didn’t buy into the Disney thing. She talks about how society makes that very difficult!
    My bottom line is that HaShem made men and women different – not one better than the other, just different. That’s why there are different mitzvahs for each. We can’t argue biology – we’re different. I’m pretty sure there’s a medresh (or gemora) that says HaShem made women scared of crawly things, and men shouldn’t laugh at them for being afraid of spiders.
    It follows, (for me) that we like different things. My 6 boys think of dolls as crime victims – they get tied to trees, become hostages – you get the idea. Once my H came in the house and saw a doll tucked into a bed. (Our D was past dolls at that point.) He stopped in his tracks and said, “A girl has been here.”
    Last story. My sister is a very liberal, women are equal kind of gal.Her D used to love Thomas the Tank engine. I couldn’t get my head around that. Then my sis told me her tanks had elaborate weddings. Oh.

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