Barbies? Fine - they're classics. DIY jewelry kits? Why not? Glam yourself right up, kiddo, and tune-up your fine motor skills while doing it. But a pretend vacuum cleaner?
Stop. Right. There.
It was Memorial Day, and my husband, toddler and I were stuck in the warm bowels of Penn Station on a layover between trains. Once I'd procured appropriate treats (i.e. stress shopping for cupcakes), there was one appropriate measure to take: seek air conditioning. With my daughter strapped into an Ergo carrier, we found comfort perusing the aisles of K-Mart. That is, until I had to pick my jaw up off the floor in the toy section.
First, the pink dishwasher caught my eye. But wait! There's more! You too, little girl, can have your very own washer and dryer! But don't you dare be caught with a wrinkle on your pinafore: mom, be sure to pick up an iron and ironing board for your budding domestic goddess!
I vacuum (I'm really one with this Kenmore appliance since having a child), do the laundry in our household, and more times than not, take care of the dishes. This is less of a reflection of my "yes, but" feminist viewpoints and more one of practicality and courtesy: I don't expect my husband to tend to domestic chores after scaling buildings all day.
So, if Mommy does it, why shouldn't her daughter emulate? While mastery of fresh linens, clean floors, and sparkling dishes may be a sign of self-sufficiency, I don't think the "fun" level of such activities registers high enough to warrant the purchase of make-believe housekeeping tools. Moreover, there are plenty of ACTUAL toddler activities that foster independence and tidiness. Unloading the dishwasher turns into a game of sorting and counting, bringing clothes into the laundry basket before bed becomes part of a routine, and vacuuming has taught both of us that some cereals make more of a mess than others (I'm looking at you, Crispix).
Besides, my daughter witnesses me doing much cooler stuff than washing towels. Take grocery shopping, meal prep, and recipe development as examples. She's right in the thick of all of it, observing my interactions with people, selecting fruits and vegetables, and acting as my little taste-tester. She's already taken a liking to "mixing" with a mini spatula and child-proof bowl, and when space allows, she'll have her own play kitchen. The difference? Cooking, whether real or pretend, opens up a world of creativity. And although SLIGHTLY less creative, I'd argue that emulating my weight-lifting endeavors trumps pretend household chores any day. She lifts a five pound kettle bell with glee, but I look forward to gifting her with a safe (yet bad-ass) plastic barbell for her second birthday.
In fairness, these pretend housekeeping items are available at higher-end retail outlets (if they were only for sale at K-Mart, I'd be even more offended that low-income shoppers were being bombarded with the message of cleaning as play), and gender-neutral versions do indeed exist. But the issue at hand, at its core, isn't one about gender. Sure, one could argue that a fuchsia vacuum cleaner and matching dishwasher perpetuate the stereotype of women as caretakers, while toys geared toward boys encourage fighting and exploring. The point is this: pretending to clean is a wasteful, demeaning way to play, whether your child is male, female, non-binary, or anywhere in between.
So please, let's spare our daughters (and other children) the plastic ironing board. And if mine ever receives one from a well-meaning friend or relative, I can assure you it will be regifted: to the nearest dumpster.