The Christmas (shopping) story for 2014

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.

6 Comments

  • whyisitso says:

    I do find the situation about TG children quite interesting. I suppose each case is different, but I’ve often wondered whether their situation is entirely emotional/psychological or part physical also.

    For example a person born a girl must have looked female anatomically when born, and while I can visualise the reverse situation, I have wondered how a person born without male genitals can function as a male. I guess in the same way male priests and other religious who make a vow of celibacy?

  • Doug Hurst says:

    On a lighter note, I see a letter in today’s Oz from a lady who has decided to stop her daughters wearing green lest it encourage Green Thought like No Gender clothes. Very tongue in cheek.

  • kvd says:

    Well, according to the Petersburg Progress newspaper of Virginia, Febuary 1953:

    Migotry is cliionic dogmatism HORACK Higotry is
    an obstinate and reasoning attachment to onesown beliefand opinions as to
    politics or morals Dogmatism is posilive ness of assertion in matters of
    opinion as if ihe belief were a mat ter of fact about which there could he no
    argument When Horace called bigotry chronic do potism he was thinking of an un
    warranted arrogancy which had become continuous and habitual Tin bigoted
    dogmatist is so oh AMAZ1NO PAZO ACTS TO RELIEVEPAIN or SIMM PILES INSTANTLY
    Spfrd amaziiiK relief from misery of simple piles woihing Acis to relieve pain
    icchihg inxlantly Lubricates dry haidenucl Helps prevent crarking reduce
    swelling

    So you are saying that you were inaccurately typecast as migoted 🙂

    ps: good luck with the dry haidenucl and crarking.

  • DaveW says:

    I can remember having to use the handle of a broken croquet racket as my ‘rifle’ when 8 or 9 and playing ‘army’. My parents did buy me cap pistols when younger, but seemed to balk at play machine guns. No matter, the crocket racket killed as many enemy as any plastic machine gun could have. The most violent thing we were allowed to watch on tv was ‘Lassie’, but I do remember sneaking to the top of the stairs to watch ‘Gunsmoke’ behind my parents’ backs. Possibly these traumatic gender experiences turned me into a peacenik anti-war demonstrator during Vietnam or possibly it was a dysfunctional Pentagon, Robert McNamara, and Tricky Dicky that pushed me over the edge.

    I’m sure Don knows the Borat reference, but in case not:
    http://www.imdb.com/title/tt0443453/

    I remember laughing a lot at that movie, so I’m probably a bad person.

  • margaret says:

    Recently we watched a home movie of a trip we took to England in the early eighties with our three children, two girls and a boy. Our granddaughter was watching with us. I pointed out her mother. The girls were wearing denim skirts just above knee and smart tops, one horizontal stripes, white navy and green and the other a plain solid colour. One had a straight short bob and the other a slightly wavy layered shortish cut. Both looked great, but not overtly ‘feminine’.
    My granddaughter’s assessment was that they looked like boys.
    Pink was not a colour rampant in girls wear then, nor were there lots of sparkly princess and fairy clothes available rack upon rack. Bringing up children in the seventies there was a very gender neutral vibe happening and not so much fuss and emphasis on ‘prettiness’.
    Imagine – a world where natural good looks, unenhanced by artifice, stylish colourful clothes worn by both genders, and toys that didn’t reinforce stereotypes enabled girls and boys to become mature women and men who could approach their sexuality in a non damaging, warm and positive way.

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