The Three Kings Are Also Sexist / 14ymedio, Luz Escobar

The demands of children have grown along with the prices of toys. (14ymedio)

14ymedio bigger14ymedio, Havana, Luz Escobar, 6 January 2016 — Half a hundred people crowded around the outside of the store. Some shelves display dolls, play tea sets and teddy bears: an explosion of pink and lilac. In others, plastic wagons, swords and firefighters’ equipment appear darker and bluish. There is no other occasion like Three Kings Day – Epiphany, when Cuban children traditionally are given Christmas gifts – to highlight the sexism promoted by many toys for children.

In the line to get to the children’s department in Havana’s Carlos III Plaza, is Yuraima, 42. She hopes to buy a gift to deliver to her niece this Friday. “I look for something nice and cheap, but also different, because she is a very smart girl,” she told 14ymedio. The woman does not want to repeat the stereotypes that prevented her from enjoying some games when she was little.

Yuraima’s mother never agreed to buy her a plastic building set that she insistently asked for when she was nine years old. “That’s a boy thing,” her mother would say. Growing up and deciding on a profession, she continued to like “putting things together and taking them apart.” Now she works “fixing electrical appliances” in a private workshop in Central Havana.

While girls are presented as princesses, fragile and focused on looking beautiful, boys seem ready to battle and kill many-headed monsters

Although the government still has a tentative attitude towards the religious origin of the January 6th tradition, the market has ended up imposing itself. A fury of purchases has taken over the children’s shops in the days prior to the arrival of Gaspar, Melchior and Balthasar, and the informal market has supplied itself for the occasion.

Most toys on sale are promoted with well-defined gender images and promote the learning of certain behaviors or attitudes. The face of a smiling girl decorates a box containing plastic pans and tiny cups in the downtown Galeries Paseo store. A few yards away, a muscular hero armed with a pistol stands out in the package containing a helmet and a shield.

While girls are presented as princesses, fragile and focused on looking beautiful, boys seem ready to battle to kill many-headed monsters or save a frail woman from the flames of a fire. Among the few unisex toys are table games, balls and Legos.

In the world of video games the distances also widen between both genders. The digital entertainments where girls dress their “paper” dolls with the most varied clothes have increased in the networks that distribute alternative media. In contrast, the sagas of heroes, sorcerers and monsters are the most abundant among boys.

Alicia González Hernández, from the Department of Sexology and Sexual Education at the Pedagogical University, has warned in her studies about the “blue, masculine world… of competition and achievements, open outwards, towards public life and social realization,” as opposed to “a pink, feminine world … of tenderness and help, turned towards intimacy, towards private life and the realization of the family.”

Women occupy 66.3% of the professional and technical positions, but in their houses they continue to carry out most of the domestic tasks

In 2015, 60.3% of graduates of higher education in Cuba were women, and they occupied 66.3% of professional and technical positions, according to the “Social Economic Landscape” report. However, women continue to do most household chores at home. They are responsible for preparing food, scrubbing, washing, ironing and caring for children.

Hence games that imitate household activities, with kitchens, small washing machines and tiny cleaning utensils are bought for girls. “That’s what they see their mothers doing and what they think they should do to become real women,” reflects Yuraima. In her opinion, “the grandparents influence a lot in those stereotypes, because they give dolls to the girls and toy cars to the boys,” she complains.

Princess toys for girls and battle toys for boys. (14ymedio)

In daycare centers and pre-school classrooms, children also find a divided universe. At the corner of a classroom in San Miguel del Padrón, the teacher Daysi, 28, has prepared several play stations that include a hairdresser and the kitchen of a house. “There are boys who also play with the dolls, but it is not the common thing,” although she says that “more and more, girls construct structures with pieces of wood.”

Small girls who play with marbles or spinning tops are called “marimachas” (butch) while boys who play house can receive worse insults. The strict definition of roles starts from the time they are babies and parents choose the pink basket for girls and blue for boys. The rest of their lives they are expected to accept or reject the gender molds that society imposes on them.

Most women surveyed prefer “a strong man, who fights, practices sports, drinks alcohol, is dominant, has money and, of course, never cries”

Julio César González Pagés, coordinator of the Ibero-American Masculinity Network and author of Macho Male Manly, led a study in 18 cities on the island with interviews with more than 20,000 people. Most women surveyed prefer “a strong man, who fights, plays sports, drinks alcohol, is dominant, has money and, of course, never cries.” Behaviors that are promoted from the home, reaffirmed in schools and supported in social or romantic relationships.

Such attitudes increase with the profile that surrounds many products for sale. State stores do not promote a balanced and non-stereotyped image of women. The critique of these rigid schemes has scarcely penetrated the public debate.

Younger parents, more aware of the issues being debated around the world, try to erase stereotypes in their children’s play. “Her father brought her a water gun, very nice,” says Lady, the mother of a three-year-old girl who is married to a Spanish resident on the island. The woman remembers that the grandparents “were very annoyed,” but in the end “everyone has gotten used to it.”

This year Lady has bought a science kit for her daughter, with a small plastic microscope and some containers to collect samples. “No Barbies and princesses, better to play with something that resembles reality.”