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why i support a no gender december

Image: Mich973 via Wikimedia Commons

Image: Mich973 via Wikimedia Commons

Australian organisation Play Unlimited’s new “No Gender December” campaign sparked a storm of controversy and vitriol last week. The clear message of the initiative centres upon a rejection of gender-based marketing and advertising of children’s toys. No Gender December advocates that children should choose the toys with which they engage, without being limited by gendered social ideals attaching to their status as a boy or girl. The campaign has gained momentum ahead of Christmas, suggesting that if you were planning to go the standard, generic route of buying Barbies for girls and trucks for boys, maybe you should think again.

Seems pretty fair, right? There is nothing insidious or underhanded about wanting children to be able to choose what toys they play with, and not feel restricted by gender stereotypes. Arguably, the push for toy retailers, companies and manufacturers to become gender-neutral in both production and marketing is a positive step towards reducing gender barriers both locally and globally.

Queensland Senator for the Greens, Larissa Waters, is a primary backer of the campaign. As a key political figure, it is Larissa Waters’ comments of support, published on the No Gender December website, that have gathered most media traction. In the statement, Waters urges toy retailers and companies to become more ‘inclusive’, suggesting that gendering toys can unfairly ingrain certain stereotyped ideals, understandings and perceptions in children. Further, the Senator, and Greens spokesperson for women, suggests this gendering also contributes to broader gender issues, including domestic violence.

Let’s be clear: gendering toys is not domestic violence. It is not violence against women, it is not sexual assault and it does not pertain to the gender pay gap. In the broader context of gender inequality, it is a relatively minor point. And the distance between these issues is something that Waters has identified. However, as a positive push against the current of societal stereotyping, I support No Gender December. Partly because of the clear degree to which gendered treatment of children can still be observed in 2014, even in innocuous comments about whether a pastel baby romper falls too close to being pink and therefore too “girly” for a baby boy. Such details may seem minor, but they stem from broader social mores that pervasively suggest pink is feminine and thus only for girls. As the No Gender December campaign asserts, colours, names, and placement of toys in stores all clearly indicate a gendered focus from retailers. Further, the toys themselves often align to dated ideas of how women and men should ideally act, and the types of social roles they should pursue. These cues all factor into how children, and even their parents, assess suitability of toys. Arguably, these gendered divisions carry on into adulthood. A recent example that comes to mind involves witnessing a man expressing evident discomfort, and verbal disgust, in the sexual and gendered implications attached to wearing an article of pink clothing.  Clearly, gender implications remain profoundly existent today.

While the No Gender December movement has an array of advocates, including over 1,700 pledges of support on the website, and a range of expert opinions that back up the assertions of the movement, it has nonetheless been met with staunch opposition from a number of political figures and media outlets alike. One of the primary detractors is no other than Australian Prime Minister, self-appointed Minister for Women, Tony Abbott. As The Guardian reported, Abbott suggested that parents should ‘let boys be boys, let girls be girls’ and that the campaign is only a show of ‘political correctness.’ A significant chasm lies between the comments from Waters and Abbott. The former advocates a break down of plaguing stereotyping that imposes social and political ideals on children, limiting imaginative thoughts and creative freedom, while the latter dismisses the campaign as merely ‘political correctness’. Abbott’s comments are misdirected; it is not merely unnecessary ‘political correctness’ to advocate for gender equality through gender-neutral toys, especially those toys directed to children of an impressionable age.

The PM’s observations have been reiterated across a number of media platforms and by a number of other political figures. Most particularly, on Thursday 4 December, The Australian published a photo depicting Waters’ daughter wearing a pink dress, suggesting a level of incompatibility between this image and the gender-neutral position espoused by Waters and No Gender December. However, not only is the use of a personal photo of Waters’ young daughter to smear and discredit the No Gender December campaign completely abhorrent, it also misses the point. Refusing to allow toys to be marketed for particular genders does not mean that girls are disentitled to wear pink, or play with Barbies, or makeup, or anything else that is typically associated with “girliness” or femininity. In fact, that outcome would completely undermine the purpose of the cause, which is to entitle both young girls and boys to make choices unencumbered by labels and stereotypes. The point of the campaign is to allow girls and boys to choose what they would like to play with and what they would like to wear, and not feel pressured to simply choose something that typically aligns with their gender.

Establishing a gender-neutral framework in toy manufacturing and marketing is one step towards achieving equal social treatment of girls and boys, and women and men. Gendering of children’s toys is by no means in the same stratum as domestic violence, violence against women, or even the gender pay gap in Australia, and it should not be treated as such. Consequently, the issue should not be unnecessarily subsumed by the media furore that has overshadowed the No Gender December campaign in recent days. But that does not mean that the gendering of children’s toys should be simply cast aside as invalid on the basis of overdone “political correctness.” While it is obvious that these types of campaigns remain a source of undue controversy and media tumult in Australia, they should be seen as what they are: not malicious, or irrelevant. The No Gender December cause is merely an attempt to change a small aspect of unfair gender stereotyping of men and women.

What are your thoughts on ‘No Gender December’, Lipsters? Tell us below!

3 thoughts on “why i support a no gender december

  1. excellent article. I think the average australian person is primitive in the way they approach issues of gender. I also think its hard for people to break away from norms and the convenience of gender stereotypes. I also think it would be impossible to break down retail industries that rely entirely on the idea of boy/girl feminine/masculine. This is a great step.
    I was watching four corners or one of those shows on abc the other week and they had a small segment on trans teens/children where physicians discussed how large amounts of children are gender fluid.

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