FORGET choosing between aisles of pink and blue when deciding what to get your kids this Christmas – social campaign No Gender December is encouraging parents to think beyond stereotypes this silly season in the name of equality.
Above: toying with the future: Melissa Donders (right) and daughter Bella are encouraging parents and grandparents to ditch gender stereotypes
First published in the 12 December 2014 edition of the Warragul & Baw Baw Citizen. Get a copy today from retailers across Baw Baw.
Organisers of the campaign are asking people to sign a pledge to ignore even the most basic stereotypes while shopping for toys, saying simple gendered marketing shapes kids’ perception of what is socially acceptable to play with, wear or do.
The stereotypes pushed on children through toys may have even determined where you are reading this piece now. If you identify as a woman it is statistically unlikely you are reading this paper on a construction site, or if male it is unlikely you are reading while at home with the kids while your partner works.
The link may seem tenuous at first, but the gender norms learnt while young – that girls play with dolls and push prams, that boys play with cars – are often reflected in adult employment figures.
It is this Yarragon toy shop owner Melissa Donders wants to see change.
“We’re going into 2015, we should allow boys to cook in the kitchen if they like, or girls to play with cars if they like,” she told the Warragul & Baw Baw Citizen.
“There should be no specifications like ‘you’re a boy, you can’t cook an egg’. It should be about imaginative play, and you don’t put those gender stereotypes into imaginative play. It should be whatever the kids are willing to play with.”
As a toy shop owner of two years, Ms Donders has seen many examples of people choosing toys based on something as simple as colour, but it’s not the children making that decision.
“It’s the parents and grandparents,” she said.
“We have a wheely bug that is a mouse. The mouse is grey and very often we have people say ‘oh, we can’t give that to the child because it’s a boy and [the mouse] has got pink ears.’
“It’s a mouse, it’s an animal. Mice have pink ears!
Ms Donders said many girls had shown interest in a wooden castle set up in the shop, but “I haven’t sold any for a girl yet.”
Ms Donders has seen some traditionally gendered toys break through, just not often.
“There hasn’t been a huge breaking of the gender stereotypes except for the doll’s houses,” she said.
“I’ve also sold felted fairy mats with toadstools on them for boys [where] some customers would say that’s a girly present.
“I think the tide’s changing a bit. I sold a car for a girl earlier this week because the mum said ‘no, she loves things rolling on the floor, I’m going to buy her a car.'”
Ms Donders said the onus was also on retailers to change generations of sales pitches, which often begin with finding out the gender of a child, and on toy manufacturers to be more gender balanced.
“We’ve got to remember that these kids and one and two year olds; they don’t have specific things in mind that they’re going to do when they’re older. All they want to do is sit on the floor, be around their parents and loved ones and play with things that interest them.
“If it is a kitchen that interests someone that’s fine, if it’s a tool set that interests someone that’s fine as well.
“Don’t limit it to only being that boys are going to play with cars and trains and the girls are going to play with fairies and princesses. They’re kids – it’s not about what we think.
“They might just find they love doing something their friends aren’t doing and it can lead to broadening their horizons rather than limiting them to only building or cooking.”
“You see dads pushing prams down the street, so why can’t we give a pram to a little boy? I don’t think that’s a problem, it’s showing a nurturing side.”
Ms Donders’ high school-aged daughter Bella also works at her shop. She said she sees the gender divide continuing to be a factor in the school curriculum.
“We had to read an article about the new trend where men are starting to work at home and be house dads, and we had to elaborate on it and how we felt about that,” Bella said.
“But then we also had to read another article that was specifically saying that ‘boys work better and are smarter’ or ‘girls are better’ and how we would prove that.
“I personally don’t think there should be that difference between genders, we’re [all] humans.”
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