Tuesday, 24 June 2014

Gendered toys and German craftsmanship

These days you hear a lot about gendered toys. Pink for girls and blue for boys - with shops such as Boots colour coordinating the placement of toys on shelves to make it easier for shoppers. Boots has recently stopped this practice due to consumer pressure, but other stores still persist.

I was lucky enough to be born in the 1970s, when the pinkification of girls was not as prevelant as it is now. My sister and I were occasionally given the same toy in different colours, and I invariably went with blue while she chose red. I was virulently anti-pink, and while I played with dolls, I also had a collection of matchbox cars, a whole zoo-full of animals, and lots and lots of legos (with not a single pink block among them). Some of my favourite toys were a tool kit (with a saw that actually worked), the Fisher Price castle (which did have a pink dragon, but otherwise encouraged such ungirly behaviour as dropping all the characters in the dungeon and the alligator-filled moat), and the Fisher Price parking garage (complete with car elevator and petrol pump)*.

Notice the matching outfits of the king and queen
and prince and princess. Not a hint of pink.

Garage equipped with elevator with ringing bell, rotating platform
on the top floor and hydraulic lift for the cars. Bliss!

However, despite the lack of gendering pressure from my toys, I was highly covetous of one of my sister's possessions: a miniature closet containing a full complement of German-made, natural wood and metal cleaning implements (with real soap included). She was kind enough to let me play with it, and I spent many happy hours sweeping with the tiny broom and sloshing soapy water around with the tiny mop and pail.

I suppose an interest in minatures and cleaning are not necessarily gendered. Even in the 1970s my father shared housework duties (he did the 'manly' tasks: taking out the trash, vacuuming, and mowing & raking the lawn. My mother cooked and did laundry, my sister and I cleaned the bathrooms, set & cleared the table, washed & dried the dishes, and dusted). And given that my father is probably even tidier than my mother, I suppose my interest in cleaning could arguably come from both sides.

At any rate, I am still very fond of miniatures, and still a compulsive cleaner, so while on a trip to Germany, upon passing a shop dedicated to wooden cleaning implements, I absolutely had to stop and take a look.

Hintz - Bürsten shop in the lovely university town of Marburg

I oohed and aahed over the brooms and brushes of every shape, size and function, all made of natural wood and bristles. But I balked somewhat at the prices (10€ for an espresso brush? Gulp). Until I saw, miracle of miracles, a miniature cleaning set! Not quite as impressive as my sister's, but this one had the added bonus of a set of tiny clothes pins and chamois cloth. I bought the green set (of course).

Cleaning set - containing the same fragrant soap as my sister's

I briefly considered which friend's lucky daughter would receive it, but as one shouldn't, after all, encourage gendered toys for children, I decided I would just keep it for myself.

Gleeful contemplation of my very own cleaning set, at long last.

*Tragically, my parents gave the Fisher Price toys away when my sister and I went off to college. I am considering sourcing replacements from ebay.