Having a 1 1/2-year-old son means we are now getting into more “boy toys” or “boy things” in our house. My inner feminist cringes a little with that statement as the gender specificity in children’s toys and merchandise is ridiculous and annoying these days, but having a girl and a boy has made me realize something about gender specific toys. They’re specific for a reason. I never said the word “princess” and my little lady is naturally drawn to the poofy, glitter, ruffly, sparkle, pinkness in life. Since my son could crawl, he went to anything he could find with wheels. Cars, trucks, trains or his sister’s doll strollers. If it has wheels, he pushes it. I swear it’s in their DNA. Overall, they stick with the gender preferences society says they should have. We always assure them, they can like whatever they want with no expectations.
Cinders and ashes! Henry’s obsession with “Thomas & Friends” is real. Congratulations Sir Toppham Hat. You have a handsome little convert. He rides the rails on the island of Sodor with his trains daily. We have a Thomas table, a Thomas ride-on toy, his Thomas shirt and Thomas hat. He does not have that many of the actual trains because I swear, Thomas is the “American Girl” of boy toys. He toddled over to me with one in hand at the store the other day. 22 bucks for one little wooden train!? Leave that one to shunt freight. It’s not going home with us. I’ll chug over to Craigslist for bargains, thank you.
This week I picked up some special books for the kids after a shopping trip with Henry that ended with a display scattered on the floor of Barnes & Noble and the clerk basically asking me to leave. Yes, the books were “his” and “hers.” “My Little Pony” for the girl and “Thomas & Friends” for the boy.
There were two versions of the “Thomas & Friends Busy Book.” One had just Thomas on the front, the other had the title engine with his friends Percy and Rosie. I glanced through each of them. There were several female engines featured in the story in with the Percy/Rosie cover. Nice! I went with that one. The Island Sodor is the setting for the show/movies/books. Sodor is a sausage fest. A lot of the show and movies consist of the male engines arguing over who is the “most useful.” Sigh. Calm down boys, you all have big funnels. Emily, Rosie, Belle, Mavis and Caitlin are the only female engines I can really think of. I like it when they are featured.
This is a short board book that gives a brief description of many of the characters. Let’s read this fine piece of literature, shall we? Bare with me, it’s only 6 pages.
- “Thomas, Percy, James and Gordon are eager to be Really Useful Engines! They’re at Brendam Docks picking up important cargo that they will deliver to different places all over the Island of Sodor.”
For the uninitiated, it is the most important thing ever to be “really useful” if you are an engine on Sodor. I actually really like that about the show. It’s nice. The engines want to work hard and do their jobs. Most of the time it’s cute.
- “Sleek and shiny Spencer transports passengers of the royal kind, while Whiff, who couldn’t care less about his looks, loves collecting garbage! What do these engines have in common? Pride for a job well done!”
Spencer comes across as a total prick on the show. He’s a fancy new engine that goes really fast. They all hate him. Whiff is the goofy outcast with glasses. They get positive mentions in this book. Nice! POSITIVE character summaries for all the engines. I love it! So far so good. But, wait! Page Three happens…now.
- “Wiser and older Edward always has good advice for Emily, who is a very nice engine, but can be a little bossy! They are happy to whir along together, exchanging stories of having been helpful.”
Oh! Well, thank God little miss Emily has a swell guy like Edward to give her such great advice! How dare she be a bossy girl! She should be thankful an “wiser and older” bloke puts up with her. Hasn’t the author of this book heard the Thomas song? The line is “Emily really knows her stuff!” I thought she was the knowledgeable, Hermione type. Who knew she was such a shrew?
- “Bertie and Henry always enjoy a spirited conversation about which is faster: buses on roads, or engines on rails? Both are extremely proud of their speediness, so this chat may end in a race!
Yeah, yeah. Race. Measure funnels. Whatever. Boys like competition. We get it.
- “Cheeky Thomas and lively Rosie make a great pair! Although Rosie’s enthusiasm for everything Thomas does can sometimes annoy him, Thomas has come to realize that together they are Really Useful Engines!”
Thomas, I feel you man. Nothing is worse than an over-eager chick, amiright? Good for you for managing to work with your female counterpart. We knew you had the buffers to handle her.
- “When Mavis is not hard at work at the Quarry, she can be found at the Vicarstown Dieselworks. Thomas knows he can count on this strong-willed, yet friendly diesel to help get the Steamies and the Diesels to cooperate!”
Thank God that “yet friendly” is in there! A female engine can’t just be “strong-willed” that wouldn’t come off well as she tries to get all the boys to get along.
All of the engines, male or female are typically described as “hardworking” and “useful.” That’s great, but the the women have conjunctions in their descriptions. What do I mean?
- Emily: “…who is a very nice engine, BUT can be a little bossy!”
- Rosie: “ALTHOUGH Rosie’s enthusiasm for everything Thomas does can sometimes annoy him…”
- Mavis: “…this strong-willed, YET friendly diesel.”
Why do each of the females in this book have conjunctions in their descriptions? The male characters don’t. Thomas is always described as “cheeky” in the song and James is “vain,” so it’s not always positive for the guys, but you get my point.
Is this a huge deal? No. Would I ban my kids from watching or reading “Thomas & Friends” because of this book? No. Do I really think this will influence my toddler son’s impression of women? Of course not. My point is, sexism creeps in to our children’s media often. I think it’s important that we recognize it and address it if a parent feels it is too invasive or could influence attitudes. I want to expose my kids to positive male and female characters in anything they read or watch.
We’ll likely chuff happily to “A Day Out With Thomas” later this year or next. We’ll keep watching the show and reading the other, less sexist books we have. We love Thomas although/but/yet, I will leave out the conjunctions when I read this book.