Bad Dad: Boys, girls and gender neutrality

Recently, I heard about a girl in New Jersey trying to petition toymaker Hasbro into making a gender-neutral version of the Easy-Bake Oven for her 4-year-old brother.

You see, Hasbro has been marketing the kitchen set, which kids use to bake cookies and cakes using a light bulb as a heating element, primarily to girls for years. All the packaging and promotional materials featured girls, and the ovens were only made in pink and purple.

McKenna Pope has collected more than 45,000 signatures on her petition on since Dec. 3, and has the support of celebrity chefs Graham Elliot and Kevin Gillespie. An impressive feat in just a couple weeks. All I did was put up Christmas lights on the house in that time. (Yes, it took me that long to do.)

Her crusade reminded me of me and The Wife's push to raise our first-born in a gender-neutral fashion. When our daughter was born in 2003, we made a concerted effort to avoid splashing pink all over the place. We both didn't want to impose any gender stereotypes.

Instead of painting her new bedroom in soft pastels, I opted to paint a huge rain forest mural. We rarely dressed her in bows and frills, as we usually shopped in the boys section for her.

Let me be clear: We didn't avoid doing girlie things with her. With her cute little ringlets, she reminded us of a modern-day Shirley Temple.

But her favorite doll wasn't Barbie, it was Buzz Lightyear. Her grandma even made her a Buzz Lightyear dress for her third birthday. She was a space ranger for Halloween two years running. She also inherited all my old Hot Wheels, and we used to play "Little Town," where we made buildings and garages out of blocks.

It wasn't until she was 4 or 5 before she started to show signs of being a little girl. She started dressing less like a tomboy and more like a little lady. After a while, she was a full-blown little girl. She eventually struck her own fashion balance. Last time I checked, she's a hippie goth chick. A unique blend to say the least; she certainly rocks her own style.

When we found out we were going to have a boy, there was another discussion about providing the same type of gender neutrality for him that we had for our oldest.

But that discussion lasted for about five seconds.

As soon as I found out the stork was bringing us a boy, it was all monster trucks and space ships. He already had a slew of Buzz Lightyear toys, thanks to his sister. Our Hot Wheels collection suddenly got a lot bigger. (Yeah, I said "ours." We've got some radical rods now.)

Not that there wasn't some resistance. The Wife brought home a pink polo shirt with blue stripes. That immediately got a thumbs down from me, followed by a request for more clothes with skulls on them. Looking back on it now, that point of view was silly. After all, professional wrestler Bret "The Hitman" Hart wore pink and black to the ring.

I can hear you already. "Hey, isn't that just a little hypocritical?" I want to be clear. I'm not against my son playing with his sister's Barbies or wearing Mom's shoes. There have been times when his sister has dolled him up in some of her dress-up clothes, and I'm the first to whip out my iPhone to snap a picture.

But we didn't go out of our way to be as gender neutral with him as we were with our daughter. Maybe we got lackadaisical. We aren't helicopter parents with him, as my wife says, we are jet parents. We definitely don't hover over him. As long as everything is good, it's on to the next thing.

After thinking about it, I've come up with one possible answer, at least from my standpoint: He often casts the deciding vote in the house.

Before the boy came along, I was always out-voted by the females, 2 to 1. Now that there's another male in the house, I have at least a 50-50 chance at forcing a tie. As long as I can make him my wingman, things should even out.

I commend McKenna and her push for more gender neutrality. After all, boys grow up to be chefs as well. Why not allow them to have an Easy-Bake Oven?

Hasbro apparently has seen the error of its ways. After meeting with McKenna, the company unveiled plans for a silver and black version with packaging that features both boys and girls that will be come out in 2013.

Just remember that boys will be boys. Eventually, something's going to be melted in that oven that shouldn't be there.

Twitter: @BadDadMatt

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