As I'm shopping for the kids in my life this holiday season, I've noticed that I fall into the same rut every year. I look at the wish lists, try to choose the least oppressive and violent options and hover my finger over the word "buy." But every year, at the last minute, I remember that my nieces, nephews, family friends, daughter and sons are being dictated to by Toys R' Us adds and sly little pop ups as they play their online games.
They don't know about the good stuff.
So here are a few ideas to move outside of the box and buy gifts that are fun for kids and also manage to impart something meaningful in the way of better messages about gender.
1. Books are always a great way to give a gift that is educational, fun and rich with content. Kids tend to gravitate towards main characters who represent the gender they identify with so for girls, I love authors like Jane Yolen (Owl Moon, When Dinosaurs Say Goodnight, Bad Girls, Not One Damsel in Distress) or Christine Taylor Butler (Think Like a Scientist in the Gym, A Mom Like No Other, The Supreme Court) and Kelly Milner Halls (Albino Animals, Saving the Baghdad Zoo) for pre-teens and younger girls and Laura Ruby (Play Me, Good Girls, Bad Apple) for teens. Also, at motherdaughterbookclubs.com, you can find a ton of great book recommendations for kids of all ages.
2. For younger kids, I came across a cool new site called Be Free Zone, a gender neutral clothing and gear distributer whose t-shirts spirit positive messages with fun graphics.
3. Goldie Blox is a fabulous resource for parents who want to make sure their girls aren't convinced by the whole "girls are bad at math and science" myth. The toys are engaging, creative and tap into the inventor inside our girls. And Roominate is another wonderful STEM supporting company that makes entire dollhouses where girls can add lights, build furniture and customize each floor.
4. Snapcircuits is also great for kid inventors and isn't limited (mainly by the packaging) to girls.
5. My son and his friends, even the female ones, are obsessed with Minecraft. I like the building elements, the way kids can play even when they aren't in the same room and the fact that it isn't so incredibly violent that I'm worried it's preparing my child to be a serial killer.
6. Last week, I wrote about Lammily, a doll made with a body that reflects (unlike Barbie) the shape of an actual female body, Go Go Sports Girls also makes some great dolls. This company makes plush dolls whose aim is to encourage girls to love sports and these dolls aren't all white.
* Also, Lottie Dolls makes some great dolls in various shades of human, Kenya Dolls are fabulous and a friend wrote to tell me about Misspossible, a toy start up "by undergraduate women at the U of I, they make dolls based on famous female scientists, and each has an accompanying app with games and activities that help girls learn STEM skills related to that doll. So far they have Marie Curie, Bessie Coleman, and Ada Lovelace, but none will ship until March 2015 at earliest."
7. For those of us born in the seventies, a classic that still appeals and sadly is still relevant, is the fabulous Free to Be You and Me. I still use it in class lessons and occasionally blast it when I'm cooking dinner. I also weep when I watch this old video with Michael Jackson and Roberta Flack. (If only he'd believed the words in the song...)
8. Jill and Jack Tees has a cool line of matching adult and kid t-shirts with great slogans like "Half of All T'Rexes Were Girls"
9. Catrinka makes products that help girls access schools and employment around the world.
10. Over the years, one of my favorite finds and best gifts has been a subscription of New Moon Girls, the incredible magazine that strives to empower, include and inform pre-teen girls.