When I think back on my own childhood, I find that my memories are sepia-toned, by which I do not mean that I am especially nostalgic, but, rather, that I grew up in the 1970s, and brown was hot. Yellow, too. Those two colors comprised the entire palette of the complete Little Tikes line and many other elements of my visual universe. Everything else was red, green, or blue. All little kids had pageboy haircuts, and boys and girls wore the same Garanimals and played with the same Legos. I know that times have changed. I know that we are, as a culture, obsessed with assigning our children to one of two exhaustively defined, color-coded genders even before they emerge from the womb. I know the agony of trying to find, say, rain boots or a toddler's toothbrush without being forced to choose between flowers and desert camouflage. But, still, every once and awhile I am taken aback.
I was flipping through Target's Sunday circula when I was confronted with the Laugh & Learn™ My Pretty Purse by Fisher-Price™. There are a lot of things I don't like about this toy. I don't like, for example, that it talks and sings. I don't want my 20-month-old daughter to learn how to talk and socialize from anthropomorphic pieces of plastic with prerecorded voices. (For weeks, I tried to figure out why she says "Hello" with a British accent before I realized that she was mimicking a made-in-China toy my grandma got her, and which she only gets to play with during roadtrips when a backseat meltdown is imminent.) But what I really don't like is the chubby little toddlerized lipstick. And the pocket mirror. And the pink-and-purpleness of the whole thing.
I know that pretending is not only an essential component of toddler entertainment but also a powerful tool for child development. I know that my daughter is fascinated by grow-up artifacts and activities. I know that she wants to put on lip balm whenever I put on lip balm, and she loves nothing more than to look at herself. But I don't like the idea of giving my daughter—or anyone's daughter—a toy designed on the premises that girls shop and study their reflection and put on makeup. It's enough to make me go on eBay, click over to the "Vintage, Antique Toys" category, and do a search for "brown".