Good parents don't make gender stereotypical choices


Gender stereotypical toys

Among silly season news stories in the media this year is the trivialising treatment of Greens Senator Larissa Waters' deadly serious call for parents to avoid buying Christmas toys that gender stereotype their children.

She quotes a No Gender December campaign coordinator's declaration that 'women mow lawns and men push prams, but while we've moved on, many toy companies haven't'. Waters says apparently harmless child gender stereotypes can adversely affect self-perception and career aspirations, and even end in domestic violence that echoes the bullying many have experienced as children.

Liberal Senator Cory Bernardi heard about the media release and thought his fellow senator had 'consumed too much Christmas eggnog'. He said: 'To say you're giving a boy a truck or a hammer is somehow leading to domestic violence and gender pay gaps is simply bizarre'. He had in mind the so-called 'gender wars' of the 1970s, rather than all the work that has been done to identify the causes of young people committing suicide.

Meanwhile there was a mixed message from the Prime Minister, who sniggered and joked about political correctness as he uttered the cliche 'let boys be boys, let girls be girls'. But then he was spot on when he went on to declare: 'Above all else, let parents do what they think is in the best interests of their children.'

Of course all devoted parents work hard to make sure their children are 'happy little Vegemites'. Mostly, thoughtful choice of appropriately gendered toys, clothing and other accoutrements, helps to give children a sense of psychological fulfilment. These things often have them feeling one with their environment and not on its margins. 

Parents put love before dogma in supporting their children to come to terms with who they are with respect to gender. Dogma refers to social norms and expectations in the various sectors of society. Tony Abbott's utterance 'Let boys be boys, let girls be girls – that's always been my philosophy' is  an expression of dogma. It is, to turn his slur on himself, politically correct. 

Dogma is part of a deductive process that does real harm to people who don't measure up to expectations. Dogma judges and excludes them. They feel alienated from family and various social groups and units of society and develop a sense that their life is unworthy. A logical consequence of that is that they can be driven to thoughts of suicide. 

The Church is often perceived to put dogma before love, and the desire to redress this was behind discussion that took place at the Synod on the Family, reflecting Pope Francis' 'Who am I to judge?' approach to acknowledging and affirming diversity.

'Who am I to judge?' has become a catchphrase very much identified with the pontificate of Pope Francis. It can also act as a reality check formula for parents of children struggling to establish gender identity. 

Parents must understand that choices of toys for Christmas that are based on dogmas such as 'blue for boys, pink for girls' do not necessarily make their children contented or help them to grow into fulfilled adults. It's much better if parents are able to discern what really makes their children happy and to act on that, even if it means that they themselves end up on the margins of society.

Michael MullinsMichael Mullins is editor of Eureka Street.


Topic tags: Michael Mullins, gender, Tony Abbott, Cory Bernardi, Larissa Waters, Greens, No Gender December



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Existing comments

There were 3 daughters in my family. My parents gave my sisters and I toy tools and trucks when we were children. We are all happily hetrosexual, but their presents helped awaken in us a strong interest in getting our hands dirty. I am an environmental engineer, and both of my sisters have agricultural careers.
Mary | 08 December 2014

Might it be timely to remind everyone that the dichotomy of 'pink for girls' and 'blue for boys' is not an absolute, but was adopted as such in about the 1920s. Before that era, the pale blue of feminine baby clothing was attributed to the pale blue of Mary, the Mother of Jesus. Likewise, pale red ( or 'pink') was the popular colour for baby boys. It's just a fashion in culture and all fashions are transient, however slowly. Perhaps Senator Larissa Waters should reconsider her confected moral outrage to matters of Fact, rather than fashion.
Bob GROVES | 08 December 2014

I am unsure that Larissa Waters' over-the-top alignment with the No Gender campaign (possibly politically correct in the extreme) is quite in keeping with her elected office. Nor do I necessarily support Corey Bernardi's or the Prime Minister's kneejerk reactions. This is one of these storms in a teacup we see in what has been an extremely Silly Season. Mary's comment on this thread seems to me to be eminently sane. Since pioneering times women on farms and in the city have been doing quite backbreaking "men's work". Australian women are generally reputed to have spine. That is not a bad thing at all. I think we need to move on from this nonsense.
Edward Fido | 08 December 2014

Let children be children. The role of the parent is to give as many opportunities as possible to explore who they may become. My granddaughter has been thorough a very 'pink' phase and is now into collecting rocks. Her dad wanted a music box complete with ballerina for Christmas when he was five. So we have a pink bedspread, many rocks and a dad who teaches his girls how to appreciate beauty, however it is expressed.
Jorie | 08 December 2014

I agree with the tone of this article, but manufacturers do not. When my children were babies we -some of that generations of mums - wanted bright colours for our wee babies. Now 'no specific gender' clothes for wee babies are of very insiped colours. Lego used to be a child's toy now it is marketed with pink for girls and macho characters for boys. I have a large box of lego pieces, nor pictures, no instructions and my grandchildren find it very difficult to play with.
Gabrielle | 08 December 2014

Once children reach a certain age, the choice parents would make in selecting toys for children, is very often usurped by peer pressure. However, the controller of the purse-strings does have influence. My children, and grandchildren, receive books and clothes as a priority. And after that I try to match specific interests with the child in a single gift. Then the money usually runs out!
Pam | 08 December 2014

My wife and I have seven children and my wife is awaiting the arrival of her seventeenth grandchild (I am a little too young to claim grandparenthood just yet!). We have always bought books for the children as well as many toys over many years. My youthfulness is attested to by the fact that I always bought toys that I could play with. It is the way to go - to hell with this politically motivated gender nonsense! I got some crackers of toys over the years and so too did my wife. Strangely, without any false irenicism towards gender equality some of the girls got "boys" toys and some of the boys more "girls" orientated toys. None of them appear to have been gender manipulated, none are gender confused and all to date are thankfully employed in the jobs they sought. We don't seem to have buggered up the toy selection process. The secret - "Buy for the little children the toys you would buy for yourself".
john frawley | 08 December 2014

An interesting sociological example of how social issues become politicised. Stereotyping children according to their gender with regard to clothing, toys, games etc can limit their choices in life style in later life. These life style choices can mask deeper desires to be someone different. For example a boy bombarded/saturated with macho toys may end up becoming a rugby league player but deep down he wants to be a nurse like his mother. Of course the two are not incompatible but to switch career paths is not easy. Senator Waters is making a valid point but our media trivialises it and the politicians politicise it (No surprise there). But note how the PM combines his dogma 'let boys be boys, let girls be girls' with his escape codicil: let parents decide what is in the best interests of their children. Here we have a combination of an initial appeal to conservative values with a little bit of independence as an after thought.
Uncle Pat | 08 December 2014

I have a niece studying at Harvard. She went into the Harvard store the other day to investigate buying apparel for her own nieces. There were children's shirts proclaiming "Future Harvard Graduate". But the figures on the shirts were only boys. Now that is a problem.
Frank Brennan SJ | 08 December 2014

What also worries me is that many books are marketed towards boys or girls, separately, and that many parents won't buy books for boys that feature girls. Some parents will tell you this in a proud way, as if their boy learning to ignore girls as interesting people is a good thing.
Penelope | 08 December 2014

In the USA the toys are made pink and blue. Real guns /rifles for children now - that is madness. Can some one tell me how on earth did we all manage to grow up sane and well adjusted before all this nonsense surfaced
Irena | 09 December 2014

In Australia we often confute "macho" with manly: I am not sure that they are the same thing. We see the same in the early over-sexualisation of prepubescent girls to be "desirably feminine". I would suggest Senators Waters and Bernardi, the Prime Minister and any other opinionati seeking that 10 second sound bite on TV attempt to address those matters.
Edward Fido | 09 December 2014

Blessed is the influence of one true, loving human soul on another. All else is subordinate.
George Eliot | 09 December 2014

Let a boy push his frilly doll in a pram,to footy practice-Get real ES- let alone spreading his toy tea set cups and saucers at half time for wearied guys!
There are primal behaviours in accord with natural law regardless of PC pressures

Father John George | 03 January 2015

And a word from the bête noire of His Holiness on church feminisation.

By the by re Cardinal Burke cappa magna,[revived by John xxiii], nobody bats an eyelid re lavish, royal or knightly copes, or Uni chancellors bedecked in cappa clausa and forget not Madrid's super macho matador capes that enrage el diabolo, the bull.
If Elizabeth 1 finally does die, the Abbey will be bedecked in de rigueur coronation copes and knightly cappas for aging Charles and retinue and what indignation if colourful denudation occurred for simplicity sake!!!
Viva Cardinal Burke papabile and no doubt, returned Tiara and plumes, That tiara a reminder of the triregnum combined with two crossed keys of Saint Peter, even still commands attention as a symbol of the papacy and appears on papal documents, buildings and insignia.
Father John George | 08 January 2015

I remember in 1981, when my first child was born, that after some fruitful evaluation of the advantages and disadvantages of being man or woman I decided to turn that completely gender neutral creature into a male child of mine. Since then everything was blue, nothing was pink, guns good, dolls bad and peeing is only possible in standing. I remember how much work and effort it was and how I had to force that sensible human being even to accept a male first name. All that work however paid off. He is 33 years now and insists to have to shave his face, not his legs. What a lucky piece of parent I am.
Thomas Marx | 17 September 2015


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