Written by: Stephen Marro
Anyone who has worked retail can attest to the fact that not only is it soul-crushing at times, but it’s also a great way to lose faith in humanity. At the time of this writing, I not only own the company More Than Friends, but I also work at a video game retail store part time. As for me, I prefer to look at the time I spend helping customers as an opportunity for human analysis and social data collection. To put that more creepily, I people-watch, and I pay close attention to the way people present themselves. My favorite category of study? Gender and sexuality. Since I can’t observe sexuality in a public setting without breaking a few laws, I spend a lot of my time at work examining how gender plays a role in the buying decisions of customers.
Buckle up, it’s going to be an uncomfortable ride.
Games For Girls
“Hello! What brings you in today?” the adorably nerdy employee (me) greets the latest customers.
“Hi, my kids are just looking for some games, thank you.” The mother replies as her two kids, one boy and one girl, run off towards the PS4 section.
“What kinds of games do they like?” I ask, knowing what I’m getting myself into.
“I like shooting games!” The boy exclaims before the mother can answer. “Me too!” The girl doesn’t want to be left out of this important conversation.
“There are some great two-player shooting games that I recommend!” I share in the children’s excitement as I try to find Plants vs Zombies: Garden Warfare on the shelf. (An E-Rated 3rd person shooter that can be played split-screen. Perfect.)
“Don’t you have any games for girls?” The mother unknowingly stabs me in the heart and crushes the soul of her daughter simultaneously. The boy is unphased.
I slyly turn to the mother with a trick up my sleeve unleashing my go-to retaliation for this specific kind of remark. I open my mouth and unleash the meticulously crafted reply that I take full credit for:
“All of our games are gender neutral ma’am.”
The roaring applause in my head is quickly diffused as my words are deflected with the mother’s response.
“You know, like a Barbie game or something with clothes?”
I quickly come up with an emergency backup plan. I ignore the mother and instead opt to converse with the REAL client in question. I turn to the little girl.
“Well… what kind of game do YOU want?”
The kids end up leaving with two great games, Rocket League (a game where you play soccer as acrobatic cars that have rockets on the back of them) and Ratchet and Clank (a story-driven sci-fi shooter with ridiculously over-the-top guns and a wonderful sense of humor).
The kids were happy. The mother… not so much. (For the record, the girl chose the shooting game.)
This interaction has stuck with me for a while. While I was successful this time, I can’t tell you how many times a child has been denied what they genuinely enjoy because it doesn’t align with their traditional gender role.
I want to be clear; There is absolutely nothing wrong with Barbie or fashion. That’s not what I’m getting at. What I want to ask every parent out there is this: If your daughter wants to play a shooting game, then why is that such a big deal?
There’s an argument that could be made about video game violence and how harmful it is, and while I don’t buy any of that nonsense, I’ll play devil’s advocate here. Why, then, when we reverse the roles do we see the same problem?
Pink For Boys
A boy came into the store with his dad and he asked for a new controller. I took him to the used accessories section and I pointed out the controllers that we had in stock.
“I want the pink one!” The boy was ecstatic as he pointed to the translucent pink wired controller. (Only about $15. Not bad. Good eye kid.)
“You don’t want that one, it’s pink! That’s a girly color! How about that camouflage one there?” The dad quickly butt in and pointed out the more expensive, non-translucent, obviously worse choice, wired camouflage controller that was only camouflage on the front and had a plain black backing for $20.
“But I like the pink one!” The boy exclaimed as I popped an imaginary bag of popcorn and kicked back in my front row seat to this demonstration of justice.
My show was put to a sudden halt as the dad turned to me and spoke, “We’d like the camouflage controller sir.”
I looked at the boy with the most compassion I could muster and I quietly apologized to him as I grabbed the camouflage controller. I, of course, had to get the last word in though:
“I like the pink one myself.”
They left the store with their controller but they left the boy’s hopes and dreams in a puddle on the floor that I would later have to mop up after closing.
The dad was happy. The boy was not.
Since when did it become kosher to enforce arbitrary gender stereotypes onto our children? Well… since forever actually, but, more importantly, WHY? Could it be that by enforcing gender stereotypes and projecting them onto our children we’re effectively shoving them into a limiting mold and simultaneously shattering any inkling of individuality for these kids?
Of course I’m being melodramatic. No kid is dying because of this. At least, they aren’t yet. But, I can personally attest to the harmful effect that shaming a kid because of their innocent, unbiased interests has in the long run. This kind of shaming creates an unhealthy identity crisis within a child, and it can make a child feel alienated and “wrong” for simply enjoying the harmless things that they naturally enjoy. These kinds of feelings are contributing factors for depression and even suicidal thoughts, and they can have a lasting, harmful effect on our kids.
When I was around 7 years old, I remember seeing a group of ducks. They were adorable. I wanted to share the excitement with my family, so I shouted, “Look at those ducks! They’re so cute!” My excitement was quickly hushed as my dad spun around and spat out the following words:
“Don’t use that word! Boys can say “cool”, but you shouldn’t say “cute”. That’s weird!”
Thankfully, my dad no longer shares the sentiment of his past self, but that moment scarred me as a child. Since that moment, I questioned my very own boyhood, and I wondered why I had this growing urge inside of me to refer to objectively cute animals as being cute. I thought there was something wrong with me! Thankfully, my dad and I have moved on from those dark times, but I can’t help but wonder how many other children are feeling similarly to how I felt in that moment every time their parent tries to tell them what game they should be playing or what color accessory they should use.
I strongly believe that our tendency to grasp onto gender stereotypes is not only horribly outdated, but it’s harmful to society as a whole. If we want our children to grow up with a strong sense of identity, self worth, and pride, then we shouldn’t shame them for the things they love. Instead, we should be encouraging our children to explore the things they enjoy and to have open conversations about what they like and why they like it.
If that proves challenging, remembering the following tips would be a good start:
- Games are gender neutral.
- Pink controllers are great.
- Ratchet and Clank is awesome.
- Ducks are cute.