It is the time of the year when everyone is jolly and full of love and happiness – holidays are coming!

Well, not everyone is happy, and I imagine, people are especially miserable when it comes to shopping for gifts. At least, I am. And this year it is even worse, because I have to do it way ahead of time to be able to send it all the way back home in time…

So, this week I was trying to find something for my 4-year-old cousin. Making young family members a gift is always a risky business, since what is in and what is out in kindergarten changes daily. To be honest I did not have the slightest clue what to get her, so I hoped for inspiration while browsing the toy’s section.

Pretty soon I realized that this would not be as simple as I had wished it to be. It actually put me in quite a dilemma. There I was looking at the shelves which could not have made me feel more offended.

Not only were the shelves decorated in pink and dark blue, but the clear influence of the binary system could be easily transferred from the shelves’ “content”: Girls are interested in family, dolls, pets, the household (preparing food), and jewelry. And boys like to play with action figures, cars, weapons, and tools.

At first I was annoyed, because I did not want to give in to this. But still in need for a gift, I had to look at the shelves over and over again. “So, then let’s buy her a toy Porsche and I’m out,” is what I thought to myself – I mean, I wanto to be good role model!

But wait!

I realized that the more interesting thing is that I read the shelves exactly in this binary fashion and that a simple let’s get her a “boy’s gift” would not make too much of a difference. The dilemma was bigger than this gift.

Almost every part of Western world socialization is based on implementing this one great division: male and female. However, understanding the errors in the binary system was not my problem – I feel I have been over that for quite some time now and know what to think of this institution – I was in this dilemma, because this system is still in place and working quite well.

But most importantly, what if my cousin likes Barbies? Is she supporting standard gender roles throughthat? Does this make her a victim of Western mainstream thinking? Is it in the end one big vicious cycle – born, identified as a girl, raised as such –> girly girl desires – to which I have to surrender, because she would hate my for giving her the Porsche? Or could it be true that she simply likes the idea of family and this is what she connects with a doll?

The more I thought about it, I realized I will never know the exact reasons for my cousin’s preferences. Especially, since, as discussed in class, desire is created from an outside source which has not much to do with my cousin. But what I do know now, is no matter what, Barbie or Porsche, the simplest way out of my dilemma is to not ask for those reasons or may even go so far as judging them.

My cousin needs me to support every kind of preference or desire she has, and most importantly, she needs to know that nothing and no one should be limiting her, and it is my responsibility to teach her that.

Oh well, in the end I bought a “Tinker Bell” figure, because I remembered how much she liked her when we watched “Peter Pan”. I sincerly hope she likes the gift – if not, I fear, there are many holidays to come…

– franziska krause