#NoGenderDecember is an Australian campaign to end the gendered marketing of toys to children. Its goal is to desegregate the toy aisles, organizing them by interest instead of by stereotype-laden “boys” and “girls” sections.
The campaign went viral earlier this week, after The Guardian reported that Australian prime minister Tony Abbott criticized the campaign. “Let boys be boys, let girls be girls,” he said—“that’s always been my philosophy.”
When I read Abbott’s quote, I thought: What an odd remark! Rearranging toy aisles according to children’s interests won’t magically turn boys into girls and girls into boys, or all children into eerily androgynous unisex beings. Abbott’s remarks seemed ignorant of the campaign’s goals and uninformed on how gender stereotyping limits young children.
The fact is that toy stores’ gender-based arrangement of toys shames children who want products that have been arbitrarily assigned to the opposite sex—like boys who want kitchen sets that are found in the girls’ aisle, and girls who want dinosaurs placed in the boys’ aisle.
Gender-stereotyped toy marketing has real implications for young children. As Maria Montessori famously remarked, play is the work of the child, and open-ended, unrestricted play is crucial to children’s development. Therefore, just as we don’t assign careers to adults based on their sex, we should never tell a child what they should or shouldn’t play with on the basis of sex. Every child should have a full range of choices available to him or her, so that the toys might broaden children’s horizons and imaginations—not box them in.
After all, whom would it hurt for, say, all the LEGO sets to be grouped together in an aisle marked “building toys,” instead of segregated in to “boys'” and “girls'” aisles?
No one. No one at all.
Yet when FOX & Friends touched on the #NoGenderDecember campaign immediately after The Guardian piece debuted, they presented the campaign in a negative light. “New movement calls for a ban on toy favorites like GI Joe for boys and Barbie for girls,” FOX & Friends reported—sending their twitter followers into a frenzy:
FOX & Friends got so much viewer attention for this short and erroneous mention of #NoGenderDecember that they decided to program a full segment on it, and asked me if I’d like to join them for another debate on the matter—a follow-up to our discussion last year of the similar “Let Toys Be Toys” campaign in the UK.
In my email accepting the invitation, I noted: “Their point seems to be not that we should get rid of any particular type of toy, but rather the gender-based marketing of toys. I agree with this perspective. When toys are categorized according to marketers’ stereotypical ideas about the gender of the child that will play with them, it limits children’s imaginations, aspirations, and identities”—adding on twitter:
Finally, Penny Nance of the Concerned Women for America and I appeared live on FOX & Friends to discuss the matter. Below, please find a video of the segment, followed by a full transcript.
What do you think? Is desegregating our children’s gendered toy aisles and advertisements a good thing? Would you like to see the toy stores in your area reorganize in this way?
Tucker Carlson: Well, a new movement sparking controversy is called “No Gender December.” Consumers are encouraged to buy more inclusive, gender-neutral toys—whatever those are—in contrast to the Barbie Dolls and GI Joes you grew up with. Does this campaign take it too far, or does it make any sense at all?
Here to debate it, Penny Nantz, CEO and President of Concerned Women for America and the author of The Princess Problem and professor of Media Studies at Salem State University, Rebecca Hains. Welcome to you both.
Rebecca, I thought this debate went away in 1978; apparently it didn’t. Um, the woman sponsoring it, the senator from Australia, says gender-based toys are a contributor to domestic violence and the wage gap. That seems insane, no?
Rebecca Hains: You know, the literature from the World Health Organization suggests that when gender inequities exist in a society, there is more gendered violence in that society. And so they’re positing a link between toy stereotypes and gender inequities. But, I really think the key point to bear in mind about this campaign is that it’s not about making things gender-neutral. It’s about the marketing, and letting boys shop for whatever toys that appeal to them, and girls shop for whatever toys that appeal to them—without saying that there’s such a thing as a “boy’s toy” or a “girl’s toy”.
Tucker: Huh. Now, Penny, is there such a thing as a boy’s toy and a girl’s toy?
Penny Nance: Well, you know Tucker, honestly this is where the feminists start to lose us. They think there’s this insidious plot by toy manufacturers to force little girls to play with dolls, and that’s just not true. If you look at National Federation of Retailers, the top ten toys ten toys for girls, the top five, are dolls, it’s basically not learned behavior, it’s innate and we can fight it all we want to, and by the way we should make available to girls Legos and other toys, we want girl engineers. But, we can’t fight Mother Nature, we can’t fight nature and it’s a great thing. We need to embrace those differences. We’re proud to be women.
Tucker: Right. Well what about that, Rebecca? I mean, I’ve got a bunch of kids; you probably do, too. I think most people who have children have noticed that kids kind of gravitate towards gender-based toys. My kids never watched TV when they were little and the boys still wanted boy toys and the girls still wanted girl toys. That’s nature, isn’t it?
Rebecca: Right, it’s totally true. And nobody that I’ve spoken with has actually said that they think girls should stop playing with dolls. It’s more about more options for everybody. And what I found in doing the research for my book was that, unfortunately, there’s a number of children—both boys and girls—who would want the toy that was presented in the “boys’ aisle” or the “girls’ aisle” and felt ashamed or embarrassed about wanting that toy. I think if you look at where chemistry sets are placed, for example, the science kits are marked as “boy toys,” and craft kits are marked as “girl toys”. What’s wrong with those just being organized by interest, rather than by gender?
Tucker: [laughing] So, Penny if you were to create a hierarchy of concerns in America in 2014, where would this rate?
Penny: Yeah, this isn’t it. But let’s be honest, there is a dark side to this. If you go on the “Mommy Blogs” there’s this whole drive for gender-neutral parenting. And the moms on there were bragging about the fact that her son was two and a half years old and didn’t know he was a boy and cross-dressing their kids. So, look, you know, if you want to screw up your kids, you can. There’s a big difference between making everything available and letting them go to their own interests than trying to create this gender-neutral child; that’s very frightening to me.
Tucker: Hmmm…guaranteeing work for future generations of psychiatrists. Thank you both very much. We appreciate it.
Apropos of all this, Kristen Myers’ infographic has been making the rounds again:
Hm. She’s got a point.
Rebecca Hains, Ph.D. is a media studies professor at Salem State University and the author of The Princess Problem: Guiding Our Girls Through the Princess-Obsessed Years, a book meant to help parents raise empowered, media-literate daughters. Rebecca would like to thank Salem State University graduate student Irene Walcott for her assistance transcribing this interview.