Questioning Gender Neutrality

I had originally planned to post about my recent ballroom competition, but the discussion spurred by a public Facebook status prompted me to change my line-up.

Let’s talk about gender neutrality.

The Facebook status links to a click-bait article praising Target for creating gender neutral bedding for kids. I have nothing against gender neutral items like the gray, plush octopus in the article’s photo. Rock your style! Kids should choose their bedding based on their individual interests, not their gender. I fully support that.

The article, though, makes me question the concept of gender neutral products. What, exactly, is the purpose of these items? Do they serve as a safe, androgynous choice for kids with a burgeoning interest in the “wrong” gender’s products? Or, as a girl with masculine interests, am I supposed to choose the more-acceptable, gender neutral bedding over the boys’ bedding? Does this new line of bedspreads create a third option in which there are “girl”, “boy”, and “neutral” comforters?

Shouldn’t bedding just be bedding?

Labels

I’m not sure gender neutral products are the solution to gendered consumerism. Target hasn’t removed gender stereotypes with this new line; instead, they’ve created a third option. The article praises Target, but “gender neutral” means “suitable to both genders.” The term uses the gender binary it’s trying to defeat as the cornerstone of its definition.

Isn’t that contradictory?

Instead of creating a new line of products marketed alongside traditional “girls'” and “boys'” bedspreads, can’t stores remove the gender labels? The product marked “Girls’ Hello Kitty Comforter” can just be the “Hello Kitty Comforter.” By doing this, the entire bedding department becomes gender neutral. It’s that easy.

Of course, removing labels won’t fix the bigger problem. The real issue is the stigma associated with crossing the gender line.

Stigma, Stereotypes, and Robotic Bugs

As a kid, I wanted this build-it-yourself beetle that, once completed, could walk around the room with a flip of its on/off switch. To my fourth grade self, this was the coolest thing in the world. But you know what wasn’t cool? When I told someone I wanted it, they scoffed and said, “Why would you want something like that? It’s for boys.”

Ouch. My eight-year-old feelings were pretty hurt.

Believing that girls must be 100% feminine and boys 100% masculine is an overly-simplistic worldview. The toy itself wasn’t inherently masculine or feminine; it was a bunch of plastic and a bit of metal. Plenty of stereotypical “girl” toys have these components, like the toy baby carriage I had as a kid. Society’s assumption that only boys would like bugs and robots made the toy masculine.

Anyone who has danced around this gender divide will have similar stories. These incidents can be damaging: my experience with this “boys-only” toy molded my childhood perception of gender as “girl” and “boy” and nothing in between. It took me years to unlearn this and see the whole spectrum of female personalities.

A list of gender stereotypes on a whiteboard

Stereotypes are never true for everyone. Photo Credit: Media Arts Center San Diego Digital Gym, cropped

The world isn’t black and white — or pink and blue. Reality is much more colorful and nuanced. People are vibrant and exciting in a way that gender stereotypes don’t account for. Life should be about pursuing what makes you happy — not limiting yourself based on stereotypes, labels, and stigmas.

Even in a matter as low-key as bedding. 😉

Though I can’t say I support gender neutral bedding, I do support gender neutral social justice. Read more about it here.

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36 thoughts on “Questioning Gender Neutrality

  1. When you thibk about it, one of the most “girly” activities : cooking (though the industry itself is ripe with male hierarchy) depends a lot on FIRE and KNIVES and generally lots of BLOOD.

    THATS AWESOME

    this is just a quick pass-by comment while I have a free minute,, I’ll be back in a while.

    Liked by 1 person

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  3. Yes, yes, yes! I feel like people add “gender neutral” just to make the point that they are doing something about gender stereotypes, rather than actually just eliminating the gender labels. I’d be interested to see the consumer feedback on these products and if they are really hitting their target (no pun intended) audience.

    Liked by 1 person

  4. I guess growing up, most of us have been influenced by all the strereotypes concerning gender. And when that happens, it’s really hard to get it out of our minds. Gender is one of those issues that will take a lot of time to solve, and that’s if solving an issue this big exists.

    Liked by 1 person

  5. Thought-provoking post! It really is a ridiculous idea to make gender-neutral kids’ bedding, when it is the parents who are concerned with giving the kids their gendered identity anyway, if they are looking for gendered or gender-neutral bedding. Does a female baby shove aside a blue bed sheet with rockets printed all over, just because it is labelled “For Boys”? Neither she, nor even the intended boy for that matter, has any idea what it is! As long as it does the job, who cares? I have no idea what colour and print my bedding was when I was a baby. I am assured it was clean and comfortable, and that’s all that matters!

    But, of course, as you hint upon it, having a gendered identity imposed on you can start from an early age, even before consciousness, which some studies say roughly begins at the age of 8. I’ve always had both masculine and feminine interests, but have faced more than enough unpleasantness for the former, while not always “performing” the latter sufficiently. I wish I could say you learn to deflect it as you get more comfortable in your skin, but even questions like this – about gender-neutral bedding – makes you wonder where you are on the spectrum. Which, ultimately, is not anybody’s business but your own.

    Liked by 1 person

    • “I have no idea what colour and print my bedding was when I was a baby. I am assured it was clean and comfortable, and that’s all that matters!”

      I think that quote right there says it all. 🙂 As for having both feminine and masculine interests, I understand. Don’t let others drag you down! Express your interests and be yourself. I think that’s the healthiest — and happiest — way to live 🙂

      Thank you for commenting!

      Liked by 1 person

      • You’re welcome! I have had difficult, deeply emotionally affecting, experiences with being labelled a “tomboy”, especially as a young girl, but I’m much too stubborn to let go of my interests!

        Like

      • There are just some freeing experiences which, depending on the culture you’re in, will be labelled masculine. Even having an opinion, and disagreeing about something is considered unfeminine by some. I hate the word “tomboy”, and I don’t see how any behaviour should be labelled such.

        Like

      • I don’t hate the word tomboy — I hate the stigma that comes with it. Having an opinion and disagreeing with people shouldn’t be a “bad” thing for women. That’s crazy!

        Liked by 1 person

  6. You are so right!! Gender neutrality (like all other so called “solutions” to social evils) is something that’s just not THE solution. It is a way to promote psychological divisions. Before there were 2 n now there are 3 – lol!
    You did a great job bringing out this topic! Good job with the sharp words inserted articulately!
    Good luck!

    Liked by 1 person

  7. You have skilfully adressed a very serious topic that should be debated and discoussed more.
    Gender discrimination has been in our society for ages and it continues to grow till this date. What with all the cover of feminism and all, it is still there. I as a woman encounter it every day. I remember when I was a teenager, all I ever wanted was to wear t-shirts of my favorite bands.
    I was a big fan of Sum41 and my mom wouldn’t let me buy their t shirt because apparently it was meant for boys.
    I didn’t understand the concept at that time but it did manage to infuriate me.

    Thank you for raising this issue here Natalie. More people need to be aware about this.

    Liked by 1 person

    • I’m sorry to hear you had an experience like that (and props to Sum41 – I loved them in high school!). So many people have stories where a person stopped them from doing something based on gender. I hope that’s something that happens less in the future.

      Thank you for commenting! 🙂

      Liked by 1 person

  8. Great post, and I completely agree that we should stop labelling things!

    Labels merely serve to pigeonhole someone into a certain category. Even “gender neutral”, as you rightly point out, is a label. Just leave things as they are! Bedding is bedding, it doesn’t need a new name for the people sleeping in it!

    Liked by 1 person

  9. Hey again!

    I am so glad you decided to reply to my Community Pool comment because that got me here.

    First, kudos on talking so clearly and sharply about this topic! All our lives, we’ve been told how women have it so bad because they aspire to do so many things that belong to the domain of men and they can’t. But does anyone really, really talk about how the reverse is also an equally major issue?

    Why should something as neutral as bedding, clothes, toys or drinks be limited to a specific gender? Cry like a girl, fight like a man, pink for the baby girl, blue for the baby boy? How does that even make sense?

    We don’t need a colour between blue and pink. What we need is to get the labels off these colours.

    Liked by 1 person

    • “We don’t need a colour between blue and pink. What we need is to get the labels off these colours.”

      EXACTLY. 🙂 Thanks for saying it so powerfully and succinctly! Colors are just colors – it’s society that insists those colors belong to certain genders.

      Thanks so much for commenting! I’m glad it resonated with you.

      Liked by 1 person

  10. YES!! This is a brilliant post! How is it that I didn’t find you sooner?
    Labels, stereotypes annoy me so much. I am someone who likes to wear sweatpants and caps to college and most guys do that too. Almost everyone I know has asked me, “Why do you wear a cap?” And no one ever asks the guys that. Because wearing a cap somehow reduces my femininity and it’s something only for the men? Something as small as a cap has also been allotted to a certain gender! I absolutely love football. Huge Manchester United supporter. Anytime that I tell my friends that, they either try to quiz me or express this huge shock like a girls job is only to shop or watch fashion shows. Gender stereotypes and labels need to be broken!
    I think this post is incredibly powerful and very well written. Love it! 🙂

    Liked by 1 person

    • I’m so glad we’ve discovered each other’s blogs — sounds like we’re kindred souls 🙂

      “Gender stereotypes and labels need to be broken!”

      I couldn’t say it any better myself 🙂 Rock on!

      Liked by 1 person

  11. Hi, interesting post.

    I agree that this gender-neutral bedding idea isn’t going to change a whole lot, because the issues are a lot deeper than that. Most of us have strong expectations on what a man or woman should be like. When someone does something that fails that expectation (playing with the robotic toy), some people react badly.

    The key is to accept people as they are, however they are (as long as they don’t harm anybody). Unfortunately, feminism and gender equality have a long and complicated future ahead of them, but there’s slow progress

    Thanks for posting this 😀

    Like

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  13. Love this!!! I love sky high heels and a sexy outfit but I also love getting off the boat at the end of the day covered in fish guts and looking like an old salty dog lol

    #SayNoToGenderStereotypes

    Like

  14. I see no issue with gender neutral toys or bedding. I agree with you that the focus should be on getting rid of societal labels and sterotypes surrounding gender. Like you, I had many “traditional girl toys” such as baby dolls and Barbies, but I also played with dinosaurs and Legos.

    Like

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