Tag Archive | gender norms

Does wearing makeup make me a bad feminist parent?

I’ve been seeing this post about a daughter’s questions about her mom’s makeup in my news feed recently, and it’s made me think. Christine Burke describes how her daughter’s simple question made her see herself through a 7 year-old’s eyes and examine why she spent so much time and effort contouring, highlighting, plucking, cleansing, and otherwise enhancing her looks.

Does wearing makeup make me a bad feminist - karyn in prom makeup www.picklesink.com

Does wearing makeup make me a bad feminist?

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A Passion For Compassion – #1000Speak

In one of my university social work class there was an intense argument about nature versus nurture – Is empathy innate or learned? As I recall, I took the innate side of the argument then but I’ve since changed my tune. I believe that empathy can and should be taught starting at a young age.

The Oxford Dictionary defines empathy as, “the ability to understand and share the feelings of another,” and Wikipedia notes, “One may need to have a certain amount of empathy before being able to experience compassion.” I think of empathy as the ability to recognize how another person feels and compassion as the drive help them feel better. Both empathy and compassion have been important parts of my life and I feel that they are two of the most crucial interpersonal skills I can pass on to my children.

Learning compassion young - baby and disabled woman smile at each other

Ben and Carol grin at each other. Carol was my nanny when I was young. She was disabled by a brain aneurysm and is mostly non-verbal, but she can still make her feelings known!

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Who’s really sexualizing our daughters, anyway?

The fabulous Stephanie Giese of Binkies and Briefcases wrote a viral post about her disbelief at the sizing and coverage in Target’s clothing options for young girls. She had been noticing what seemed to be a distinct reluctance to include…y’know…fabric…in items like shorts for girls as young as 5. Her post received a mostly positive response, but also a fair bit of backlash (One standout was a commenter who posited that she should put her “fat-ass kid” on a diet if she wanted clothes to fit her better. Way to keep it classy, interweb.).

Quite impressively, Target reacted almost immediately, reaching out to her, doing their own research, and promising an overhaul of their sizing practices including feedback from “real” moms like her, which is awesome – we should be able to find clothing for our children that fit with our own tastes and values without having to pull out our sewing machines and make or modify them ourselves.

But…(you know me…there’s got to be a but)…I don’t agree with the reasoning that we need more modest clothing options to avoid sexualizing our young daughters. Children are not sexual. Exposed skin is not sexual. Children with exposed skin are not sexual.

Children are children. Continue reading

It’s a new dawn, it’s a new day, it’s a new life…

First day back at school for Ben and Molly, and I’m holding my breath in anticipation…

Miss Molly? No worries there. She’s back to the same routine, same preschool, and was practically out the door honking the horn before I could finish saying, “Time to…”

Preschooler fashion tips: Stripes ALWAYS match other stripes! www.picklesINK.com

You heard it here first: Molly says stripes are a Fall 2014 fashion DO.

Besides…it’s Molly. I could drop her in the middle of the jungle and she’d have the gorillas dressed in ball gowns and tiaras enjoying a rousing game of “Magic Fairy Princesses Dragon Battle Tea Party” before you could say, “Gee, I didn’t know Rapunzel had a sword.” Continue reading

Why a newspaper “Ethics” columnist thinks 7 year-olds in competitive dance are akin to sex workers.

Good news, everyone! I’ve decided to feature an occasional anonymous feminist advice column. Please feel free to send along your submissions and tell your friends!

Dear Sylvia,

I just read this article in an online newspaper, and it left me deeply troubled. It called itself an “ethics column” but really seemed much more like a “patriarchy judge-o-matic.”

A concerned party wrote in with a question about a 7 year-old girl involved in competitive dance; apparently this person’s colleague showed him/her a photo of the colleague’s daughter in dance competition costume. Rather than respond with a socially acceptable, “That’s nice,” the letter-writer, judging that in his/her opinion, the girl in the photo was made up to look like a sex-worker, said something along the lines of, “Hey, I don’t know much about you or your family, but based on this single picture of your daughter about which you were obviously excited enough to show me, a work colleague whom you clearly don’t know all that well or you might have expected such a tirade, but I feel that your parenting skills are inadequate, your judgement is lacking, and if left unchecked, your daughter will probably grow up to be a whore. You should be ashamed.” Continue reading

Yes, Virginia, feminists do wear miniskirts.

When I was in high school, I was the goodiest of all two-shoes. My marks were in the high 80-90s across the board. I sang in 3 choirs, if you count the children’s church choir I assistant-directed. I played 2 instruments in 3 orchestras, including my school’s professional double quartet. And by professional I mean we played actual paid gigs; the school hired us out to play functions on our own time, earning $500 a pop which went straight into the school’s bank account. But, y’know…happy to oblige, right?

I didn’t go to parties. I didn’t drink. I didn’t smoke. I didn’t even know what a mary-ju-wanny cigarette looked like, and I didn’t even round first base until I was in university.

When you consider the external pressure of a high-achieving family and an expensive private school education, combined with the internal pressure of a type A perfectionist personality, something’s bound to give, right? On top of that, there were a lot of shitty things going on at my school, some that I was just witness to and others that impacted me personally, and there comes a point when you have to do something to push back.

I directed the majority of my aggression internally, as many of your teenage girls do, but I had one small form of outward rebellion – just one. Every morning I woke up and put on a dark-coloured brassiere before I buttoned up my white oxford shirt. It was my way of subtly flipping off the entire institution. I was well aware that my snazzy undergarments were visible through my uniform shirt, and I loved it.

I wasn’t the only one. There were hundreds of us with our little micro-rebellions – rolled up kilts and rolled down socks; hiding friendship bracelets under our shirtsleeves and concealing polished fingernails in our fists. One student wore a band-aid over a nose piercing for months, ripping it off every day at 3:45 and letting her silver ring breath free. We weren’t trying to impress any boys. There weren’t any boys to impress, unless you count the maintenance guys we used to bum cigarettes from or that computer tech who offered to split a joint with me at a club.

It seemed fitting – the ways that they were screwing me over were well within their framework of rules and policies, and so was this. Trust me. I checked.

By all accounts though, my choice of attire was “unprofessional.” Shouldn’t the school have put a stop to this? Isn’t it their job to teach me to maintain proper decorum? How would I one day find gainful employment if I didn’t even understand how to dress the part?

The thing is – I did understand. Completely. I understood that school was not, in fact, a job. I understood that school was a place where I was expected to study and learn so I could get good marks and go to a good university. I understood that school was a place where I was expected to treat my teachers and fellow students with respect. School may have been a lot of things, but a job it was not; a job, you see, pays you money.

Of course, it being a private school, I also understood that I was required to follow certain standards of dress and accessorizing (uh…none), so I wore all of the uniform pieces that were required of me. I carefully noted, however, the lack of supportive undergarment-related parameters in my school’s Code of Conduct – Uniform Policy, and smiled to myself as I hooked together my navy and white gingham bra.

I also understood jobs. My job at the time was babysitting, of which I did rather a lot, and for that endeavor, I dressed differently – appropriately, one might say, if by appropriately one meant, “Wearing stuff that wouldn’t be damaged while playing with children and was easily laundered.” Obviously, this ruled out my uniform since that blinking kilt had to be ironed within an inch of its life. Word to the wise – if you’re choosing a private school for your daughter, the wider the pleats, the easier the care.

And interestingly enough, I figured all this out by myself. My school didn’t educate me in how to dress appropriately for babysitting. Or for being an auto mechanic. Or a flight attendant. Or a swimming instructor. Or a lawyer. Or a professional beach volleyball player. When I hear people say that students need to dress appropriately at school to prepare them for the standards of dress they will encounter in their workplace, I always wonder, “What kind of workplace?”

At school we sit at a desk and write stuff and sometimes we use computers, so I guess we equate it with an office job and impose or encourage standards similar to what you would find in that environment. But if school is supposed to prepare students for entry into the workforce, why can’t we think outside the cubicle?

Or is it less about clothes and more about teaching students that in the workplace they will be expected to follow instructions, including but not limited to standards of dress. I guess that makes a little more sense, but aren’t there enough rules for them to follow already before clothing even enters into it?

All right – let’s accept for the moment that it *is* the education system’s job to prepare students for the workforce, and that setting and enforcing clear dress codes are one way to do that.  The next issue that we arrive at is the fact that school dress codes are inherently discriminatory, disproportionately singling out women and girls.

With the help of my friend Google, I’ve had a look at some school dress codes in Ontario – elementary and secondary schools in both the public and Catholic boards, and here is what I’ve come up with:

We are fortunate that school dress codes contain helpful, concrete descriptions that can in no way be misconstrued, like “modest,” “respectful,” “respectable,” “inoffensive,” “non-distracting,” “neat,” “appropriate,” “proper,” and “decorous.” Clothing should not, on the other hand, be “distasteful,” “revealing,” “distracting,” “offensive,” or “sexually provocative.”

Well, that should be easy to figure out and to follow, right? No margin for error there! On the off chance that you do have difficulty interpreting the guidelines (or *cough cough* happened to stumble upon a loophole), they often include helpful summary sentences like these:

“All clothes are to be appropriate for the learning environment as deemed so by the staff at the school.”

The Administration reserves the right to decide on appropriate attire.”

Perfect! No matter how iron-clad the rules are, there’s a leetle space for wiggle room in the form of arbitrary judgement.

This one actually acknowledges that different attire is suited to different settings:

“Clothing that may be appropriate at home, at the beach, or at a nightclub may not be appropriate at school.”

Unfortunately, that sentence is preceded by this one:

“All members of the school community must dress in a way consistent with a scholarly tone: dress that reflects personal pride and respect for others.”

A scholarly tone? I’m not sure what that means. Can you elaborate? “Members of the school community are required to be adequately covered to be consistent with a scholarly school tone.”

Scholarly tone = adequately covered = reflecting personal pride and respect for others.

Gotcha. I do apologize to anyone my bare shoulders ever disrespected. Totally my bad.

Not wanting to leave anything up to chance, it gets even more specific: No clothing or accessories which “are unduly distracting, including but not limited to, dress which is sexually provocative, torn or ragged.”

Ah, there’s the rub, right there in black and white:

Sexually provocative = unduly distracting.

This one includes a rationale . Apparently, the dress code contributes

  • to a safer and more secure school policy;
  • to the development of an educational learning environment;

I had no idea that modest dress was safer and more educational. You learn something new every day. Oh, but wait…Something’s coming back to me…Now that I think about it, I do recall hearing something about that back in “How Not To Get Raped 101,” otherwise known as a day in the life of a girl in rape culture.

That very same school concludes with a catchy little slogan just to drive the point home: “Remember: If we can see up it, down it, or through it, then it shouldn’t be worn at school!”

But I’m sure that’s directed at both genders equally…

I’m happy to report that my school took my rebellion in stride. While I happen to know that there were several changes made to the uniform policy after I left, it was never addressed with me, aside from the one teacher who, her clipped English accent dripping with sarcasm, “That’s a very nice checked brarr, Kahryn.”

The lack of reaction was a surprisingly feminist response. They had certainly come a long way from the lines of girls kneeling in the hallways to face the yardstick kilt-measure of my middle school years, and even farther from the “line up and bend over,” bloomer-checks that were rumoured to have been conducted not long before my time.

Why am I telling you all this?

I’m telling you this because it is important to understand that there is a person in those short-shorts or wearing those visible bra-straps, and she doesn’t necessarily lack self-respect or an understanding of appropriate attire.

She may have a stable father figure, or she may not. Her parents probably raised her just fine, or maybe they didn’t, but her clothes don’t tell you anything about that.

She’s not “asking for it.”

She’s not necessarily wearing the only thing she can afford, or she might be, and she might have chosen to wear it anyway, or maybe she wishes she had something different.

She’s not doing it because she enjoys the attention from most of the boys and some of the girls. Or she might be, and that’s her business too. Me, I enjoy attention, so I dye my hair purple, because sadly, the attention I get for showing parts of my body is not what it used to be – “Mommy!! Your breastses are HANGING DOWN!!”

She’s not showing disrespect to her teachers or to her classroom, because how is showing her own skin, or a half-inch wide strip of elasticized fabric, being disrespectful, unless of course we are operating on the premise that a woman’s body or undergarments are somehow offensive?

She’s Just. Wearing. Clothes.

And maybe if we stopped getting our granny panties in a knot about it we could get on with dealing with the far more serious things that teenagers today are dealing with.

Like Bullying.

Mental illness.

Substance use.

Rape and sexual assault.

Academic disengagement.

Unemployment and underemployment.

Perhaps our outrage and our measuring tapes could be put to better use.

 ~ karyn

Maybe it's time to reconsider school dress codes - or at least consider why we have them.

I apologize to anyone my bare shoulders ever disrespected. Totally my bad.

Princess Molly’s Princesuccessful Day of Princexcess.

Once upon a time, in a far away land, lived a beautiful young woman, her handsome husband, and their spirited 2 year-old son. They lived a humble and unassuming life and were happy together, just the three of them, but they all harboured a secret desire to welcome one more child to their family.

They wished and wished, and faced many trials along the way, but at long last, that wish was granted, and the couple told their precocious son that the mommy had a baby growing in her tummy. He was delighted and declared, “It’s going to be a turtle, and I’m going to name it Dora!”

After the longest pregnancy the woman had ever experienced (literally, since the aforementioned little boy made his appearance rather earlier than expected), the big day finally came. The expectant couple dropped the little boy off with his grandparents, packed their bags, and headed off bright and early to…


After a calming meander through the furniture-filled halls and a quick bite of breakfast for the father-to-be, they made their way to the hospital where they celebrated International Women’s Day 2010 by welcoming the future first female benevolent dictator of the world.

On meeting her several hours later, her brother quickly got over his disappointment at her lack of turtle-ness and accepted his parents’ over-ruling of his name choice in favour of Molly Elizabeth…

…and the rest, as they say, is history — or at least it will be once she makes it!

The End.

(Oh, right — as for the titular Princesuccessful Day of Princexcess…) Boy, oh boy — Let a doting father of a princess-obsessed birthday girl loose in a bedding store, and the results are…well…

Perhaps it could be best expressed as a word problem:

If Train 1, carrying a load of cotton candy, leaves Station A at 10:30 AM traveling 100 km/h, and Train 2, carrying a load of Bazooka Joe bubble gum, leaves Station B at 10:45 AM traveling 115 km/h, and they arrive at the junction at the same time and collide with a tanker filled with Crush brand Cream Soda and a truck loaded with costumes for a preschool ballet recital, just exactly HOW pink will the resulting explosion be?

Or a tongue-twister:

How much pink could a pink thing pink if a pink think could pink pink?

Or a haiku:

Spring breeze wafts cherry blossoms
Soft scent fills the air
The perfume suggests a hue.

I give you: Princess Molly’s Royal Bedroom

Princess Bedroom collage

Text reads (clockwise from left): “*Gasp* I LOVE it!!”
“I never had a Princess lamp before!!” and
“Wait, mommy! I have to put on my Princess dress before I can go in!”

Pink to the power of pink

The answer to all three of the above questions is This. This is how pink. Pink to the power of THIS MUCH.

Molly and daddy

In all fairness, who could resist?

Ben moved in too

And in the end, Ben couldn’t resist either.

Anyway, my Molly Monkey, five International Women’s Days have now come and gone in your life, and you have grown up into a headstrong, self-aware, independent, gutsy, and all-around fantastic four year-old with those excellent leadership qualities that your paediatrician predicted in your first year.

I know that you will grow up to do anything you want to do, and mommy, daddy, and Ben and all the rest of your family and friends will be there to support you and cheer you on, whether it’s fulfilling your dream of becoming a princess geologist, or traveling the world to watch you compete at the elite level of the winter sport you plan to invent, “Skeleton but then you slide down a huge, huge jump and fly way up in the air and do flips and somersaults!!”

Actually, y’know what – let’s stick to world domination. It’s probably safer.

~ karyn







Not your mama’s toy shopping tips

‘Tis the season!! As the ground turns snowy and swathes of red and green appear in the dollar store, our thoughts turn to the joyous season of giving.

Christmas store

Dollar Store in October. No joke.

To help you with that giving, I have been carefully poring over toy catalogues to compile a list of my top 10 essential Christmas shopping tips. I really hope that you find them helpful!

Ben santa

10 Essential Toy Shopping Tips, straight from Santa!

Top 10 Christmas Shopping Tips

(according to a national retail toy catalogue)

Tip #1:

For the little boy in your life, pirate, castle, race car, tool kit and train play sets are always appropriate choices. Don’t accidentally buy one for your little girl, though. She would much rather have a pretty pink purse, baking set, realistic shopping cart, or vanity unit with light – the 5-minute auto shut-off means she won’t get into the habit of primping for too long, and her future husband will appreciate that, amiright? Pair that with her very own vacuum cleaner and cleaning trolley and look at her go!

Graphic for Number 1

Collage of catalogue pages. Thought bubble reads, “This thing’s gonna crap out any second and I’m not even half done.”

Tip #2:

Boys love science, so look for a telescope, chemistry set, microscope, or any of many other assorted science kits with only boys on the boxes. As I’m sure you realize, girls aren’t really good at that sort of thing but they do like to make pretty stuff, so you could try the rock-tumbling kit; maybe she’ll even learn something while creating earrings, necklaces, or keychains! For even more creativity without the distracting science focus, consider any of a wide variety of craft kits.

Graphic for Number 2

Collage of catalogue pages


Looking for something a bit bigger? Little girls really like to sit and draw, or even just sit passively and look pretty, so consider a art desk or a pink princess castle playhouse for her. For her brother, how about an activity gym or superhero-themed real go-kart? Those boys really like to get active while their sisters watch! Remember, they’re never too young to start internalizing appropriate gender roles, so consider an infant-sized kitchen play-set for Baby Susie or sports centre for Little Johnny.

Graphic for Number 3

Collage of catalogue pages. Text reads, “Binary Internalized Gender Roles: The Gift That Keeps On Giving!”

Tip #4:

For toddlers and preschoolers, you can’t go wrong with a classic child-sized kitchen play set. It used to be that these were only for the little girl in your life, but we’ve come a long way, baby! Now you can get realistic-looking toy kitchens so that boys and girls can play together – think how much fun your kids will have reinforcing gender stereotypes when she washes dishes while he barbecues, or even better, as she fixes him another sammich while he scarfs down the first!

Graphic for Number 4

Catalogue page. Speech and thought bubbles read: “How are the dishes coming babe?” “Just fine, sweetie!” “Asshole.”

Tip #5:

Little girls love to play dress-up and then look at themselves in the mirror, so the only question is: Table-top or full length? (Or how about both?)


Graphic for Number 5

Catalogue page. Thought bubble reads, “I thought I wanted that chemistry set, but boy was I wrong. Thank goodness Auntie Sue went with her gut!”

Tip #6:

Outdoor toys like sleds, battery-operated cars and other ride-ons are always a hit! If you want your daughter to participate make sure she has a brother or little boy friend who can take the controls because you know what they say about women drivers…

Graphic for Number 6

Collage of catalogue pages. Text reads: “I mean, women drivers – It’s just not worth the risk, right?”

Tip #7:

Building sets are also an excellent choice for both boys and girls. The manufacturer makes it easy for the consumer to ascertain which sets are appropriate for boys or girls by selectively gendering the character figures that are included. Your daughters will love building the sets and then grooming horses, pampering pets, hosting sleepovers, or running a bakery with Andrea, Emma, Stephanie, Mia, and Olivia, while your sons will enjoy flying planes, fighting bad guys, and performing open water rescues while identifying with male pilots, lumberjacks, forklift operators, police officers, superheroes, and coast guard members!

Graphic for Number 7

Collage of catalogue pages

Tip #8:

What little girl wouldn’t love a baby doll to cuddle and care for or a little girl doll to be her best friend? With a wide variety of doll furniture and other accessories available in a vast array of shades of pink, your little mommy can dress, change, bath, and feed her little baby to her heart’s content. Since statistics show that the vast majority of little girls are white or just slightly tanned, you will easily be able to find a doll that your daughter can relate to. As the catalogue suggests, “Celebrate her uniqueness” with the gift of unintentional irony! Playing with dolls develops nurturing, caring, and empathy, which is wonderful for girls, but of course we don’t wish to encourage those traits in boys, which brings us to our next tip –

Graphic for Number 8

Collage of catalogue pages – in fact, EVERY SINGLE page in the doll section. Text reads: “CELEBRATE HER UNIQUENESS WITH ACCIDENTAL IRONY” and (pointing to tiny inset photo) “Look! A Black person! Thumbs up to this retailer for representing diversity!”

Tip #9:

Boys love violence! Luckily there is a wide variety of toys available to feed those urges, including boxing sets, guns, and ammo. For your little Katniss, consider a pink/purple gun, bow, or crossbow – and so you don’t have to say it, the little “Rebelle” logo will remind her every time she sees it that it’s not quite socially appropriate, now, is it?

Graphic for Number 9

Collage of catalogue pages

Tip #10:

Finally, if toys aren’t really your game, consider furniture. Is your little one outgrowing his crib? Why not get him an awesome toddler bed that looks like a sports car, train, or pirate ship? If you have a daughter, you’ll have to think of something else since a hollowed out fairy princess would be kind of creepy. (Aside – How is it that no-one has made a disemboweled tauntaun toddler bed yet?? Mattel? Little Tikes? This is cross-branding GOLD. You guys will definitely want to get on that. I expect a 10% royalty on every unit sold.)

Graphic for Number 10

Catalogue pages. Thought bubble reads, “This race car is cool and all but a hollowed out tauntaun would be SO much better.”

Special bonus tip #11:

Be aware of the way that toy marketing influences as well as reinforces gender roles. Don’t buy into the marketing gimmick that tells you that you have to go to the separate “girls” section to get a pinkified version of the same familiar toys. Companies aren’t doing it because research has shown that there is a qualitative difference between “boy” stuff and “girl” stuff. They’re doing it because they know they can get you to spend your money twice on the same damn thing.

Listen to your children. Let them develop their own likes and dislikes – don’t let the toy companies do it for them. If your daughter asks Santa for a 44-piece tool kit while your son wants an Easy-Bake oven, congratulate yourself on doing parenting right. (I still use that tool kit – thanks again, Santa!).

The social construction of gender is a cyclical process – advertising doesn’t create those constructs, but it doesn’t try to undermine them either, because retailers make money by giving us what we want to see: Little white girls playing with dolls and boys driving racecars. They think that we won’t be as likely to buy it if they catch us off-guard with something that doesn’t seem quite right, so they (and we) continue to force our hockey-playing girls and our Strawberry Shortcake-loving boys back into those boxes that society has built for them over and over until eventually they decide that they might as well just stay there.

Let kids be kids, not gender constructs. The next time you see a toy catalogue with 9 pages of little (white) girls playing with doll stuff and not a boy in sight, take a cue from Santa Ben and shout it out, loud and proud:

“That’s a STEREOTYPE!!”

Collage of photos of boys and girls being themselves

Collage of photos of boys and girls being themselves


Please Note: This is not a sponsored post. All artwork, unless otherwise noted, remains the property of the original photographer. My observations are based on my analysis of trends seen in toy catalogues and do not refer to any specific retailer or manufacturer pictured.

Next month in Cosmo Parenting: How to live your dreams through your kids and look great doing it!!

Wow. This parenting thing is complicated. Every time I sign Ben or Molly up for an activity I have to ask myself:

1. Am I doing this because they like it, or because I like it?

2. Am I choosing this activity to conform to some outmoded gender stereotype, like “girls are supposed to do dance, and boys are supposed to do hockey?”

3. Am I choosing this activity to deliberately DEFY some outmoded gender stereotype, like “wouldn’t it be SO COOL to be the parent of the ONLY boy in ballet class?”

4. Can I even afford the fees, let alone the equipment?

5. What if they don’t like it? Will I make them stick it out, or let them drop it?

I have no coordination. Zero. In fact, less than zero: I have negative coordination. When the good lord was handing out coordination, ze not only skipped me, ze came back and took extra away from me and gave it to Kerri Strug. When I tell people that, they always laugh and say something like, “Oh, yeah, I totally know what you mean, me too, like back when I did my twelve years of dance and gymnastics I was totally awful…” and I think to myself, “I don’t think you quite ‘totally’ know what I mean.”

When I was in Godspell, our Judas, who was also a choreographer, bravely tried to teach us a simple dance number and I had to take him aside and explain, “I need you to understand that when I say ‘I have no coordination and I’m not going to be able to do this,’ I’m not just being self-deprecating – I can try my very hardest to learn it and I can practice it for months but when it comes down to it, I will get up on stage and I will %$&* it right up.” In the end, I got to stand in the back on a sawhorse  playing rhythm sticks, and damn it, I nailed it!

“We Beseech Thee” from Godspell
That’s me in the back – NAILED IT!!
©PicklesINK 2012

With this lack of coordination both coupled with and contributing to my lack of interest, I was a dismal failure when it came to athletic pursuits. I hated every minute of ballet as a preschooler, loved swimming lessons but despised competitive swimming, and never went back after one brief season each of soccer and softball. Skiing was the only exception. Artistic endeavours were more up my alley and I sang in multiple choirs and played in multiple orchestras through my school career and recently discovered a love of acting. I am also amazed by the seemingly effortless skill of dancers, gymnasts, and figure skaters and love watching them. Ian brings the love of competitive and team sports to the equation, with childhood success in swimming and judo and an adolescent and adult rugby and soccer career under his belt.

So when it comes to Question 1, things get pretty complicated. I would LOVE to sign up Ben and Molly for everything under the sun, especially those things I would have loved to do but couldn’t – Wouldn’t it be amazing if Molly became a champion gymnast? A pro hockey player? A prima ballerina? If I get Ben into lessons early enough, he could be a  concert violinist! A pro baseball player! A musical theatre triple threat! All of these things that maybe I could have been if only my parents had started me in lessons when I was 2 and forced me (for my own good, damn it!!) to continue!

Or Ben could be a professional busker…
©PicklesINK 2012

And then Question 2: When Ben was 3, we signed him up for hockey, but we’ve got Molly in dance. What if Ben would like dance better? Are we pigeon-holing him? What about Molly? She seems to like dance, but am I just seeing that because she looks so cute in her pink dance outfits? What if her niche is actually judo? Am I selling her short?


Seriously, how friggin’ cute is Molly in a dance outfit?
©PicklesINK 2013

Then there’s the flip-side, Question 3: I’m a liberal-minded, enlightened, feminist mom, and I should make sure everyone knows that! Am I letting down the cause by dressing up my daughter in her pink leotard and packing her off to dance class with all the other girls every Saturday? Maybe I should sign Ben up – PEOPLE need to SEE that boys can do ballet too! Ian is really good about calling me on that one. Having grown up as one of four brothers in a fairly traditional family, he leans towards being more comfortable with Ben in gender-normative “boy” activities while being happy to consider trying Molly in anything; and in my “enlightenment” (and those are deliberate air quotes) I am biased towards putting Molly in gender-normative “girl” activities (because SHE LOOKS SO DARN CUTE!) while wanting to push the conformity envelope with Ben. Together we meet in the middle and make a pretty good team.

Not to mention, how friggin’ cute is Ben in hockey gear?
©PicklesINK 2012

And of course Question 4: How privileged I am to even be able to ask this question, and to have it so far down on the list, when for so many families this is Question #1 and none of the other questions even factor into the decision!?! I have to be mindful of just how amazingly lucky we are that we have these opportunities available AND that we can afford to provide Ben and Molly with at least some of them.

Finally, Question 5: What will we do? I don’t know yet. My parents were really good about making us stick things out for long enough to know for sure that we wanted to quit, and I’m thankful for that. I think I’ll have to play that one by ear, and activity by activity. It kind of links back to Question 1, doesn’t it? We will have to make sure that in making that decision, we’re focusing on what Ben and Molly want or don’t want and not what Ian and I want.

With that in mind, of course, I’ll sign Ben and Molly up for violin, piano, hockey, tap, ballet, t-ball, soccer, swimming, acting, gymnastics, ringette, curling, skiing, tuba…or maybe not! I’m trying my best to provide them with a variety of options to see what peaks their interest (so far DEFINITELY dance for Molly, but we haven’t hit on a real love yet for Ben) while not falling into the trap of signing them up for something Every. Single. Night!

Of course, when Molly is a pro tennis player and Ben a Broadway star, I’ll let you know so you can say, “I knew them (or at least read their mom’s blog) when…!”

~ karyn

How do you navigate the crazy world of kids activities?

Gee, Karyn, are there any dolls you actually do like??

I’m not all doom and gloom, privilege/oppression/whiteness/and-other-social-work-buzzwords. There are some good options out there if you’re willing to do some digging (or some sewing).

I have a collection of dolls/hand puppets from when I was a teenager called “Treehuggers.” These were, in my opinion, the best rag dolls ever made. You could buy from the catalogue or place a custom order, choosing gender, eye shape (from a selection of buttons), hair colour and texture (yarn – straight, ravelled, dreadlocked, long, short), and skin colour. They also encouraged fine motor development through tie-able shoelaces, button fastenings on the clothing, and  the fact that they could be used as dolls or hand puppets, making them excellent toys for children with special needs. Unfortunately, except for the odd Ebay listing, you can’t get them any more. If anyone reading this has mad sewing skills and wants to go into business, let’s talk!


My collection of 4 Treehuggers dolls, each with different skin colour, hair colour and texture, and eye shape and colour.
©PicklesINK 2012

Cabbage Patch Kids are still available in black or white and as boys or girls. At the lower price point they have unfortunately gone to the glossy doll-hair but you can get the “original” version through the website for a price. Lots of the older ones are available in thrift stores though.

Ben and Molly's babies: From left, Lissaba, Melissa, Alyssa, and baby with no name.©PicklesINK 2012.

Ben and Molly’s babies:
From left, Lissaba, Melissa, Alyssa,
and baby with no name.
©PicklesINK 2012

There is a line of dolls called “Hearts for Hearts Girls” that is reasonably affordable. Each doll represents different country and comes with a story book, friendship bracelet, web access code, and donation through World Vision to help girls in her country of origin. Unfortunately, in Canada they are exclusive to Walmart, which may turn off some consumers. They only have girls, but that does fit with their concept.

Part of the “Hearts 4 Hearts Girls” collection: From left, Consuelo (Mexico), Dell (USA), Rahel (Ethiopia), Zelia (Brazil), and Lauryce (USA). Photo credit: Hearts 4 Hearts Facebook page

I also quite like Groovy Girls – contrary to their name, there are boy dolls, and they come in many different skin tones and hair colours and textures (yarn). They have been around since 1998, so they would probably be available in second-hand shops as well for more variety. We have a great collection that was given to Molly by my cousin.

Molly's collection of "Groovy Girls" dolls©PicklesINK 2012

Molly’s collection of “Groovy Girls” dolls
©PicklesINK 2012

Online, by asking my good friend Google to find me “ethnic dolls” I also found the following intriguing websites (below). Sadly, the first entry that turned up in my search was toysrus.com, offering “ethnic dolls, including Dora the Explorer, Barbie, and SpongeBob.”


Screenshot of Google search for "ethnic dolls"

Screenshot of Google search for “ethnic dolls”

Anyway, moving on…

My World Ethnic Doll Clothing, based in Toronto, Ontario, was founded by a Canadian teacher who wanted to provide parents with the opportunity to purchase doll clothes that represented their cultures. This website provides a wide variety of multicultural fashions, male and female, and androgynous dolls in 4 different skin tones. Prices are shockingly reasonable.


My World Ethnic Doll Clothing
doll and clothing collection

Kids Like Me, based in the UK, provides educational toys, books, and resources that embrace diversity, special needs and inclusion. Their online catalogue offers a variety of reasonably-priced multicultural rag dolls (boys and girls).

And finally, oddly enough, IKEA has the coolest collection of multi-ethnic, unisex, and extremely reasonably priced doll stuff anywhere…which I suppose should not be particularly surprising since they have for some time been ahead of the game when it comes to providing unisex (ie. neither pink nor blue) toys such as kitchens and toolbenches. The LEKKAMRAT series includes 3 soft doll options (different skin and hair colours and facial features), 4 different sets of outfits, and a bathtime set in which the bathtub is blue. BLUE! IKEA also offers a wooden doll bed with blue sheet and rainbow-striped cover – and listed as “related products” to the doll bed are the children’s “10-piece coffee/tea set,” “5-piece kitchen utensil set,” and “toolbelt with soft toys.”

Photo of LEKKAMRAT dolls in various outfits
from website of Kimberley Bezaire, PhD

Whether you are searching for a doll that looks like your own child, trying to find resources for your classroom or daycare, or looking for ways to promote diversity in your own home, there are definitely options available – in fact, more than I even realized when I started this post.

~ karyn