Posted Jan 18, 17
by Jennifer Pierre
"Why are you celebrating brown boyhood and not all boyhood?" When I first started pitching the idea of Melanites into the world, this was one of the first comments I received. As a new founder of a company who hoped to stand up for children's right to options, I never wanted any specific group to feel left out. The answer to this question for Melanites lies at the intersection of race and gender roles in our society.
The last time I made a visit to the toy store, I was confronted with extreme aisle segregation. I am very familiar with the problematic "pink aisle": a sea of gender stereotyping for young girls who are simply looking for adventure and fun. However, peeking around the corner was a similar pigeon hole. As I ventured down the adjacent displays, the "blue aisle" began to take form. Every shelf was littered with toy guns & aggressive role play.
Gender policing of boys occurs all the time, from the schoolyard to the media. While girls are increasingly receiving the message that they should shrug off outdated gender expectations, boys are still pressured to conform to a very specific and prescribed idea of masculinity. Undoubtedly, there are positive traits associated with masculinity, but the heavy pressure on boys to shape themselves in accordance with certain masculine ideals can also be confining and harmful.
This is especially true when we add race to the equation. In the latest toy industry news, Barbie revealed a groundbreaking makeover to their previously very limited line. The blonde haired blue eyed mold is now going to be joined with different races, heights, and body sizes. While is this commendable on their part, frankly it should have been the norm from the start.
Studies have shown that kids gravitate towards toys that reflect them and with our society's very prominent diverse demographics, its no wonder that there is a need for a makeover in the aisles. There are more multicultural children being born under the age of 5 and that is shifting them from the "minority" to the majority of children. The demand is there.
Children play is serious business because it is a focal point of where ideas and messages around sense of self, confidence, and imagery stem from. Having diversity in their toy selection is not just a political agenda but a very humane need for access to different backgrounds. Many people might feel that Melanites' target market is niche, but I would challenge them to look around them and see if their image is the only thing reflected back. From children in classrooms to professionals in the workforce, our peers are diverse and to only have access to one mold is absurd.
When we proclaim celebrating brown boyhood, it is a message to all the black and brown boys in our communities. Dream Big, Stand Tall, and Live out your childhood.