Under the tagline “Stereotypes limit thinking”, the No Gender December campaign was created to challenge the pervasive gender stereotyping used to market toys to children in the holiday season. The campaign, which started in Australia, has been widely successful, now boasting participation in 48 countries. Larissa Waters, an Australian Greens Senator, has come under fire from conservatives for her support of the campaign late last year, with some going so far as
to claim that she wanted to “ruin Christmas.”
The “Greens War on Barbie” message splashed across the front page of The Daily Telegraph on the second of December was just one of the many attacks of the Australian media on Senator Waters for her involvement in No Gender December. Another article, published in The Australian, was entitled ‘Senator Larissa Waters’ girl dares to wear pink’, and accompanied with a photograph of Waters’ young daughter in a princess costume, detailing the Senator’s apparent hypocrisy in allowing her daughter to conform to gender stereotypes.
The very existence of these articles reaffirms the lack of comprehension surrounding both Waters’ viewpoint, and the gender expression debate as a whole. While it is not a problem when children are genuinely attracted to toys which align with traditional gender roles, the No Gender December campaign aims to challenge the stereotypes which limit children’s perceptions about the ways in which they are permitted to express themselves. It’s not about banning Barbies – it’s about showing kids that there’s no shame in playing with the toys they like, regardless of whether they conform to gender stereotypes or not.
The backlash against Senator Waters and the No Gender December campaign is symptomatic of the knee-jerk conservative rejection of all which challenges the ‘traditional’ family model and the gender roles which accompany it. Expanding the market of ‘girls’ toys’ to the male demographic (and vice versa) has the capacity to both increase sales by expanding perceived options for each gender, and give children a sense of freedom to enjoy whichever toys interest them, which seems like a win-win situation to me.
Despite this manifold advantage, Waters has been represented as some sort of Gender Grinch, attempting to snatch glittery pink ponies from the hands of crying girls come Christmas Morning. The misrepresentation, sensationalization and wilful ignorance displayed in response to Waters’ message illustrates just how deeply entrenched this attachment to binarised gender expression remains, even in 2015. Staunch right-winger Bob Katter claimed that when it is his turn for gift-giving, “all the boys are getting guns and the girls are getting dolls.” Ah, boys as protectors and girls as mothers – because heaven forbid the children like toys which don’t align with outdated gender standards.
Despite my disillusionment with the responses to Senator Waters’ comments, there is a certain irony in hearing notorious conservative Senator for South Australia Cory Bernardi so righteously claim that Senator Waters’ support of No Gender December is ridiculous, as children “should be allowed to be children”.
Well, Senator Bernardi, that is the point indeed.
If you would like to take the pledge to challenge gendered marketing of children’s toys.
Sources & Further Reading
Ellen Degeneres’ talk about Bic Pens highlights just how bizarre gendered marketing can be.