My Christmas piece for this year involves a pressure group called No Gender December, which wants us to stop supporting toy-making-firms that use pink for girls’ presents and see guns and trucks as appropriate toys for boys — what it calls ‘gendered marketing’. I would have passed it by had not the Prime Minister mentioned it in passing as an example of political correctness. Then I saw an article about it on The Conversation, and felt moved to comment there, as follows.
Interesting stuff, but we’ve been through it before. Those of us who brought up kids in the 1960s and 1970s, with the help of Dr Spock and other advisers, went through just such a phase then, and were urged to let our children decide what sort of toys they wanted to play with. Most of us discovered that boys did like trucks and girl did like dolls…
I think Rule No. 1 with respect to The Conversation is that you should never comment. The very next commenter railed at me:
I think an assumption in your comment is that your child was completely immune from societal influence – never saw any ads, never heard mum and dad talk, completely isolated from society. You know how migoted parents are more like to raise bigoted children – Were you and your wife completely devoid of gender concepts? seems impossible.
I have never thought of myself as ‘migoted’, and I tried to think back to the days when my littlies were two or three, when toys start to be really important. The first three were girls, and we had all sorts of different toys for them; they chose what they chose. No, we didn’t offer them guns. They never saw ads because we didn’t have television until they were older, and then it was the BBC. But I recall that when I was a small boy, and money was scarce, we made guns out of anything that looked like a gun — of course World War II was on at the time. I don’t know that in the 1960s we engaged in conversation with our children about toys, or that they overheard us talking about toys, which we would have done separately from them. It’s just hard to remember. I guess we weren’t ‘devoid of gender concepts’, whatever that may imply.
OK, I thought, perhaps I should go and find out more about No Gender December, and you can do that here. It seems to be an initiative of another group called ‘Play Unlimited’, which has the same broad picture of the world: Gendered marketing informs children’s feelings about whether it’s socially acceptable to show interest in a toy. Some take this “knowledge” into the playground, where they quickly chastise any child who demonstrates an interest in the “wrong” colour or toy for their gender.
Maybe it’s so. We buy presents for our grandchildren now with some knowledge of what they are interested in, but they are not part of the choosing and buying process. That was true when it was our children, not grandchildren, who were involved. None of the reason for the alarm about this issue seems obvious to me, and The Conversation piece produces only one reference to a book that includes one reference to one paper. It seemed to me that the PM had it about right.
Now, No Gender December invites you to join its ‘Hero’s Wall’, which you do by making a pledge and commenting. Most of the heroes come from Australia, but there are pledges and comments from all over the world. Not all of them are positive. One or two wondered how, with all the other problems in the world, why this one was thought to be important. Someone from Kazakhstan called Borat proposed to give his children coloured AK-47s. Someone else thought that dildoes were gender neutral. Fundamentalist Christians offered forceful objection. At last call there were 1929 ‘heroes’, which doesn’t seem a large number to me.
The whole thing puzzles me. We went to Toys ‘R Us the other day to buy some Duplo for a grandson whose even younger sister likes to play with what he is playing. Lego is thought to be too small for her (and might be swallowed). I couldn’t see any gendered marketing in the store, aisles for boys and different aisles for girls. Perhaps I wasn’t alert. To repeat, I’ve never taken children to a store and asked them what toys they would like me to buy. Maybe most people do. Maybe I’m old-fashioned.
It’s not that I’m ignorant about gender-stereotyping. I have a TG grandson who started life as a girl baby, and is now at high school as a boy, looks the part, and is very, very happy about the change. From an early age he resisted being dressed as a girl, having long hair, and being called ‘pretty’. It was not long before we (the older generation) came to the view that there was a real issue for the future developing in front of us, and we are all delighted that sanity has prevailed, with some fine professional medical help that will continue for many years.
Plainly, ‘gender marketing’ is a problem for some, but in the scale of things it’s at the bottom of what I would see as the real problems.