The first toy I fell in love with was a red dump truck I received after a cousin said he was tired of it. Here was a 4-year-old girl, in pigtails and ribbons, dragging a dump truck around after my mother rigged it with a rope. At that age, all I knew was that the truck was fun and I was going to play with it until the wheels fell off.
As I got older and eventually acquired more siblings, my tastes in toys seemingly didn’t change. I preferred my younger brother’s WWF figurines over my sisters’ Barbie playgroups. Then something happened that made me realize not everyone believed that toys were genderless.
At the age of 6, my little brother asked for a doll. It wasn’t a Barbie or anything similar, but a My Buddy doll. Remember the boy doll that resembled Chucky from Child’s Play, minus the knives and blood? My Buddy was marketed as a doll for boys. Along with My Buddy was his counterpart, Kid Sister—which was something none of us girls wanted to play with.
When my brother stepped out of the house with his new My Buddy, kids laughed. They called him a sissy. No one understood why a little boy wanted to play with a doll, regardless of the fact that it was a boy doll. Fortunately for my brother, he had older, protective sisters, and we put those kids in their place. We were ride or die. You mess with one, you mess with all.
Gender-specific toys were something we never worried about while growing up. Pink toys, blue toys, boy toys, girl toys? It didn’t matter to us. We just knew what was fun and what wasn’t. Unfortunately, for some kids growing up nowadays, it’s not that simple.
Take Michael Morones. Michael is an 11-year-old with a love for My Little Pony. My Little Pony is typically marketed to girls because of its pink equestrian look. But Michael was a fan who happened to be a boy, and he isn’t the only boy out there who’s into the toy ponies. There’s a growing group of males of all ages, called bronies, who are diehard fans.
Unfortunately for Michael, his love of ponies caused him relentless bullying. Classmates called him gay and tormented him for not being manly enough. It was this ridicule that led an 11-year-old to attempt suicide by hanging himself in his bedroom. Michael survived but still has a long recovery ahead of him.
Although Michael’s is an extreme case, bullying is something that plenty of boys deal with when they ignore their stereotypical gender roles. Rarely is it mentioned that a girl is shooting water guns or playing with cars, but the minute a boy plays with a toy that’s not considered masculine or is just too “girlie,” accusations regarding his sexuality begin to fly.
But what makes some boys gravitate toward toys that aren’t labeled boy toys? Issa Mas, the parent of a 6-year-old boy, saw that her son had a natural inclination for boy toys. “My son has always naturally gravitated toward toys that are historically viewed as toys for boys: trucks, trains, vehicles of all kinds. Even when I have given him toys that have been historically girls’ toys, he has always gravitated toward boys’ toys.”
But when asked if she would have a problem with her son playing with a My Little Pony, she responded, “Absolutely not.”