Made by Raffi

“Soon Raffi was knitting everywhere — in his bed, in the bathroom, at breakfast… even on the school bus. It was a long way to school and some of the children teased him. And it didn’t help that Dad’s scarf grew to 12 feet long and trailed all down the aisle of the bus. Ruby almost tripped over it, and all the children laughed. But Raffi just wrapped the scarf round his neck three times and kept on knitting.”

A short while ago, I commented on the gender-appropriateness of toys for children. For reasons that are likely economically-motivated, toy companies have decided that it is far more profitable to have a clear distinction between what is a boy’s toy and what is a girl’s toy. The former is likely involved in construction (or destruction) and the latter is likely pink and sparkly. This sort of differentiation is not restricted solely to toys either as we can observe the same phenomenon in children’s activities too.

Boys are encouraged to be athletic, taking up physical play. Girls are encouraged to be artistic and graceful. Some people may think it odd if a little boy expresses interest in taking ballet class, just as they may give an odd look if the girl who should be a little princess would prefer to take up woodworking in a carpentry shop.

But why? Why do we do this? Not to be confused with the Canadian children’s entertainer of “Baby Beluga” fame, Raffi is the main character is a children’s book called Made by Raffi. Written by Craig Pomranz and illustrated by Margaret Chamberlain, the book describes a story where the school-aged boy wants to take up knitting.

He loves all the different colors and color combinations that are possible. He loves the expression of his creativity. But in the book, the otherwise quiet and reserved boy is teased by his classmates for taking up what appears to be a “girl’s” hobby. Eventually, they come to accept him when his knitting saves the day, but in an age where a girl can just as happily grow up to be an auto mechanic as a boy can grow up to become nurse, why do we continue to differentiate between what is appropriate for each gender?

I’m reminded of an image that was recently shared through social media. It asked, “You let your little boy play with dolls? Are you afraid he’ll grow up to be…. a great father?” If Raffi wants to knit, he just may blossom into an amazingly artistic young man with a knack for the visual and tactile. That sounds pretty wonderful to me.