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?
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.
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.