I recently stepped into a toy store at Dubai Mall to purchase a baby gift for the new daughter of one of my friends. The over eager sales clerk immediately asked me if I was looking for a gift for a boy or a girl, then pointed me in the direction of the section marked “Girls”, awash with cotton candy pink. Clerks tend to “Ma’am” you up and down here as a sign of respect, but five “Ma’ams” and two “Madams” in the space of one minute just made me look down at my orange shift dress and wonder if I was looking particularly dowdy that day.
It is the same in the US, where friends force their newborn daughters to dress as Disney princesses and their sons to have cowboy-themed 1st birthday parties, every second documented forever on Facebook.
As I entered the “Girls” section, baby dolls followed me with their eyes, a motion sensor inside their chests forcing them to cry “Mama” at me as I walked past, unmoved by any maternal instinct to soothe them. It struck me that girls and boys were prescribed appropriate activities, colors and playthings based only on their gender. It is the same in the US, where friends force their newborn daughters to dress as Disney princesses and their sons to have cowboy-themed 1st birthday parties, every second documented forever on Facebook.
What about the boy who wants to hug a doll or the girl who dreams of racing toy cars down the hall? I wondered how a mother in the Middle East would respond if her son expressed an interest in playing dress up in her heels and Chanel lipstick. I wondered how I would respond if I were back home in America and he were my son.
Family Flavours, a magazine in Jordan, agreed to let me write a feature story titled, “My Son Plays with Dolls: Playing Across Gender Lines in the Arab World (printed in the magazine’s April 2013 issue by Al Marji’ Publications). To research the story we created a survey for parents. The majority of our respondents were Arab, based in Jordan and the surrounding region. The results shocked me. Read on to find out why: