The Struggle With Gendered Kids’ Birthday Cakes And Toys

A few weeks back, I walked into a cafeteria/bakery to book a birthday cake for my niece for her third birthday. Those who live in Juba know how limited the places one can get good cakes are. I went straight to the kids’ section. Among the options was a white Barbie doll/princess dressed in pink and a blue car written on ‘dream car’ and many more.  You know, the obvious narratives that present girls as beautiful princesses and boys as villains and superheroes who are always out there saving the world and building things. When I made up my mind on what to order, I walked to the counter to place my order.

I told the attendant that I need the car but in white instead of blue and gave her my details. When she finished recording my information, she then asked for what to write on the cake, like they always do. I told her to write “happy birthday…” and gave her my niece’s name. Upon hearing the name, she paused, looked at me, and said, “the car cake is for boys, this is a girl’s name, there are options for girls at the end there, did you see them?” I told her yes, I saw all of them and I want the car but in white. She stops writing the name halfway and looks at me seemingly confused. 

I told her the car is written on “dream car” what is wrong with my niece dreaming about owning a car in the future? When she realized I was serious, she turned her attention back to the receipt and completed the name and other details she needed to complete the order. I made my payments, took my copy of the receipt, and left. 

That was not my first experience, it’s my everyday struggle especially when it comes to buying gifts to take to friend’s baby showers or children’s birthdays. The kids’ toy section is always filled with different types of dolls meant for girls and all kinds of guns, superheroes, cars, artillery meant for boys. 

It is almost impossible to find gifts in Juba for children that do not reinforce gender stereotypes and expectations of girls as mothers and caregivers/takers, and boys as builders/creators of things and conquerors. There is always a variety of toys that allow boys to imagine, be creative but at the same time extremely violent in nature as well. 

You are uncomfortable with your son playing with dolls at a young age but expect him to grow into a man who will not see childcare as a woman’s role?

We never pause to question these small things in our fight for gender equality. You are uncomfortable with your son playing with dolls at a young age but expect him to grow into a man who will not see childcare as a woman’s role? As a generation of South Sudanese that is to a certain extend gender-aware and is heavily feeling the impact of gender inequality, how different are we raising our children? What gender stereotypes and expectations are we consciously and unconsciously reinforcing? Some of these things seem small but are not.