My older sister Xochitl carried the burden of being our family’s first girl. When you’re the toddling daughter of a progressive-minded father, that means no baby dolls or Barbies under the Christmas tree. And – with Gloria Steinem as his witness – certainly no plastic kitchenettes.
He asserted they were nothing more than traps, those toys, ways of luring girls into roles that kept them in the house and under the radar. So forward-thinking. Forget that my brother’s toys had no stipulations.
It was the ’70s and both my parents wanted in on that women’s liberation thing. My mom, as the woman in the relationship and therefore the expert, thought their then only daughter’s toys should be granted immunity from such a cause. My dad disagreed.
Proving old habits die hard, that was the end of that discussion.
Women who dared undermine their husband’s wishes at that time made up a small, brave minority. My mom would soon join them over the toy debacle.
No one could have guessed that the driving force behind her defiance would be her own fuzzy slipper, also known as Xochitl’s firstborn.
There she was on that early morning in Idaho, my mom’s then only daughter, holding that slipper in her little toddler arms, swaying it back and forth in her rocking chair and singing it tender lullabies.
The vision inspired feelings equally sweet and tragic.
Recognizing Xochitl was one stiletto-in-a-bassinet away from spending way too much time with her school counselors, my mom’s maternal instincts trumped her wifely obedience.
The jingle of keys and the screech of tires was all they heard. When she returned, Xochitl had her first doll and my mom had her first moment of liberation. It must have felt mighty nice to not just talk about the movement, but actually live it.
My dad didn’t bother fighting her, either. I imagine it had something to do with the delight in his daughter’s eyes when she discovered real baby dolls have nothing in common with footwear.
About the doll. She was a beautiful Madame Alexander collector’s item. Probably not the most practical direction the madre could have taken, but she had her reasons for going fancy.
The precious doll wore a frilly, long, sky-blue dress and her eyes, the color of amber, closed when she was laid down. Oh, and she was black. Yes, as in African-American.
My mom may have compromised on the issue of gender roles, but when it came to perpetuating a European standard of beauty on her Mexican-American daughter, she put her slippered foot down.
But, why black? It was the closest thing to brown she could find. She scoured stores before finding that doll of color – which happened to be designer – and reached deep into her purse to claim it.
This was before Latinos became the largest minority group in the country, folks. The toy manufacturers didn’t have to pretend to care about us yet.
By the time my little sister came around, we had plenty of black dolls. And, before Mattel sold Barbies with office attire, we’d pretend ours had both husbands and jobs to tend to.
Perhaps it was more about the messages we received from our parents than the toys.
As for the effect gender-stereotypical gifts had on Xochitl later in life, well, her most recent Facebook update says it all: "Just received my Icing Expert Bottle Kit … Can’t wait to get started on the Christmas cookies."
If it weren’t for the fact she’s a company shareholder today, my dad would be shaking his head and blaming what was quite possibly her favorite Christmas present of all-time: the Easy Bake Oven.
Contact Xazmin Garza at firstname.lastname@example.org or 702-383-0477. Follow her on Twitter @startswithanx.