Sense & Sensitivity by Harriette Cole

Mom Upset When Kids Receive Gendered Gifts

DEAR HARRIETTE: I am the mother of a boy and a girl who are close in age. During holidays, I find that I receive pretty sexist toys for my children from my family. For example, "Josh" will receive cars and toy guns, while "Alaina" receives kitchen sets and dolls. Their Easter baskets were even gendered to make sure a girl does not receive blue candy!

How can I address this issue with my family? We are grateful, but I just don’t want my children to absorb these gender stereotypes. -- Pink Is for Everyone, Baltimore

DEAR PINK IS FOR EVERYONE: You have to speak up in order for your family members and friends to know where you stand on gifts. First, though, talk to your children to see what kinds of gifts they would appreciate most. Speak to them individually so that each child feels free to tell the truth. Then, when you communicate with loved ones, you can share your general concern about gender bias with the gifts they have been giving, and then add specifics about what your children have said they like.

You should also know that gender bias is often unconscious. Our culture has prescribed that boys and girls should be attracted to certain things and activities for generations. It may not be easy for your loved ones to change. What is most important is that you teach your children to feel comfortable expressing themselves as the unique human beings they are, even if their interests do not fall along traditional gender lines.

DEAR HARRIETTE: I work at a restaurant with counter service only. In my short weeks working here, my manager has begun to comment on my looks and put his hands on my waist. I complain about this to my friends, who are also 18, and they tell me to quit. I need the money, but can’t stand the harassment. Also, part of me wants to make sure he won’t harass other girls who work at this restaurant. Should I go on a quest for justice, or just quit and try to find a new job? -- Paws Off, Brooklyn, New York

DEAR PAWS OFF: This is an unfortunate and common occurrence in the workforce, particularly for young people. Your boss’s behavior is inappropriate and unlawful. Sadly, there is a chance that you could lose your job if you speak up. But this is one of those times that your voice is incredibly important.

The next time your boss touches you, ask him not to do that again. Tell him that it makes you feel uncomfortable for him to make comments about your appearance and, more, to touch you inappropriately. Point out that you thought this would be a great job for you and you would like to stay working there, but you do not think it is fair for him to treat you in this manner.

Chances are, your boss will be surprised. He is likely banking on your youth being a deterrent to you being able to speak up for yourself. I also recommend that you look for another job. You may never feel completely comfortable there, given your boss’s proclivities. Unless you are prepared to sue and go the distance with him in court, make a plan for departing, but not without letting him know how you feel.

(Harriette Cole is a lifestylist and founder of DREAMLEAPERS, an initiative to help people access and activate their dreams. You can send questions to or c/o Andrews McMeel Syndication, 1130 Walnut St., Kansas City, MO 64106.)