California’s crusade for gender-neutral toys

Gavin Newsom is using toy shops to push woke values on to kids.

Ella Whelan

Ella Whelan

Topics Identity Politics USA

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Gavin Newsom is at it again. Not content with signing bills into law that allow biological males to be placed in women’s prisons, or declaring California a ‘refuge state’ for transgender youth, the Golden State’s governor has launched another ultra-woke crusade – this time focussing on children’s toys.

California legislators have passed a law that, from 1 January next year, will force all big childrens’ toy retailers to have a ‘gender-neutral’ section selling ‘gender-neutral’ toys. According to Democratic assemblyman Evan Low, this law will encourage businesses to ‘avoid reinforcing harmful and outdated stereotypes’ about boys and girls.

One wonders whether Newsom and his fellow Californian lawmakers have been in a toy shop recently. Most don’t segregate their products on the basis of gender anymore. They organise them according to brands, age and price. This means that Barbie dolls and Action Men will often share the same aisle.

But then this law isn’t really about the layout of toy shops. It’s a way of passing judgement on parents. It’s a way of stigmatising those parents who happily buy dolls and dresses for their little girl, and Transformers and tracksuits for their little boy. It’s a way of signalling that those parents, in the words of Evan Low, are ‘reinforcing harmful and outdated stereotypes’ about boys and girls.

Newsom and the gang are not blazing their own trail here. They are building on a long-standing, largely feminist obsession with gender and children’s toys. Feminists have often argued that pink, princessy toys limit girls’ ambitions.

This long-standing conviction that toys help to determine boys’ and girls’ identities has underpinned the recent wave of middle-class interest in gender-neutral toys. It has now given birth to what comedy writer Hayley DeRoche describes as ‘sad beige parenting’ – a term coined to capture the monochromatic wooden toys that so often populate the nurseries of middle-class children. Of course, these sad beige toys are not really for the children at all. They serve as a means for socially conscious parents to express their supposedly superior woke values.

Using childrens’ toys to express a particular set of political values is a practice normally associated with authoritarian regimes. In Saudi Arabia, the authorities have been known to seize rainbow-coloured toys and clothes on the grounds that they are ‘promoting homosexuality’. And this year pro-Putin MP Marina Butina denounced Barbie dolls for encouraging ‘LGBT propaganda’. She wanted parents to buy ‘patriotic’, Russian-made dolls to ensure that kids are supportive of the bombardment of Ukraine. It’s hard to see how these crude attempts to use toys to promote an anti-gay agenda or Russian nationalism are much different to Newsom’s attempt to use toys to promote gender-neutral ideology.

Most parents treat the fuss over gendered toys with a huge pinch of salt. The idea that children’s lives are forever shaped or damaged by the toys they play with is ridiculous. My son is currently obsessed with cows, but he hasn’t set his heart on owning a smallholding in the future. Whatever life choices he makes as a grown-up will not be down to the influence of the toy aisle.

All kids really want is a toy that’s exciting and given with love. Surely parents can be trusted to pick the right one themselves.

Ella Whelan is the author of The Case For Women’s Freedom, the latest in the Academy of Ideas’ radical pamphleteering series, Letters on Liberty.

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Topics Identity Politics USA


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