'No Gender December' supported by UN: founder

A campaign calling on parents to boycott gender specified toys this Christmas draws directly from the UN convention, the campaign founder said.

Spearheaded by the Greens, the message of the campaign 'No Gender December' is that gender-specific toys reinforce old-fashioned stereotypes, and can lead to aggression in boys, domestic violence and pay inequality for girls.

Mother Thea Hughes's group Play Unlimited started the campaign, which she says has the support of the UN Convention on the rights of the child.

Article thirty-one enshrines the child's right to engage in play, and article two demands the convention be applied without discrimination of any kind, irrespective of the child's sex.

Play Unlimited wants laws enacted to smash the boy-girl toy barrier but the greens won't go that far, instead calling on stores to voluntarily dismantle the gender divisions in their aisles.

"Stop with this nonsense of marketing for boys and for girls. Toys are toys and lets let kids be kids,” Greens Senator Larissa Waters said.

Prime Minister Tony Abbott weighed in on the debate:

"Let boys be boys, let girls be girls - that's always been my philosophy - and above all else, let parents do what they think is in the best interests of their children," he said.

Campaigners are calling for blue and pink toy aisles to be scrapped, and federal legislation to stop advertisers showing only boys or girls playing with particular toys.

Child psychologists say their arguments don't hold up, arguing there's no research to support the idea that gender-stereotyped toys are harmful.

In 2011, a four-year-old American girl named Riley Maida shot to prominence for a YouTube video showing her rant against the tyranny of princess gear for girls, and superhero stuff for boys.

The clip, which went viral, summed up the frustration many families feel with what they perceive as forceful gender stereotyping by toy manufacturers.

In Britain, campaigners claimed a string of victories the following Christmas; London's Harrods unveiled a vast "gender-neutral" zone organised by theme instead of by sex, and last December the Hamleys toy store removed "boy" and "girl" signposts, replacing them with red and white ones.

Britain's Early Learning Centre, a leading toy retailer, was targeted in 2009 by a grassroots campaign dubbed "Pinkstinks" denouncing stereotyping in toys.

"Back then, the ELC had a double page spread on things people do, fireman, policeman etc, which were all boys except for a girl as an old-fashioned nurse," said Emma Moore, who launched the drive with her sister Abi.

"The next page was all girls in princess dresses."

Family psychologist Ian Wallace told Practical Parenting that ‘when boys fall over, we may be more likely to make a comment such as, “You’re all right, hop up, no tears, be a tough little fella...”. When our girls trip we’re perhaps more likely to make a comment such as, “Oh darling, are you okay? You poor thing. Here, Daddy will give you a big cuddle...”.’ Photo: Getty

Stung into action, the ELC's website pointedly showed girls playing with construction sets or dressed as firefighters and boys rocking baby dolls.

So how much is really changing?

Haude Constantin-Bienaime runs a day care centre in the Paris suburbs that was the first in France to adopt a policy on gender discrimination.

"Little children will try anything. It's what we adults offer that influences them. And society is full of gender stereotypes," she said.

"This is one way to tackle stereotyping," she said of the retailers' moves. "But walk into a toy store and there's still a very clear divide between games for boys and ones for girls."

"There is movement but it is fairly superficial," agreed Moore, who feels girls have most to lose from the current state of affairs.

"Boys get adventure, action, science and discovery. What girls get is very often a dumbed down version of that, or go and sit in front of a mirror.

The argument behind
The argument behind

"You still see a glut of toys which are about being pretty," with make-up kits targeting toddlers as young as two. "Little girls are encouraged through play to become obsessed with what they look like."

Pinkstinks uses Twitter and Facebook to name and shame bad practice -- and often gets its own way, like recently when Sainsbury's supermarket removed the "boy" and "girl" tags from a doctor's and beautician's outfits.

It received messages of support from all over the world, including every country in South America.

"We were first to verbalise what was actually bothering quite a few people," said Moore. "As a culture, we are obsessed by gender but it didn't used to be like this."

"If you go back 20 or 30 years and look at toy catalogues it's fascinating, you see pages of toys for children -- not for boys and girls."

A campaign called
A campaign called

She, like many campaigners, believes the core driver for splitting the market into his and hers is purely economic: you get to sell twice as much.

"I have no doubt there are differences between boys and girls -- I can see it in my children and my nephews. But there is growing evidence that suggests the differences are fairly minute."

"It's just so boring, apart from being damaging!"