If you’ve not yet heard the news about Marks and Spencer's toys, then I recommend you take a seat. From Spring 2014 onwards, all ranges will be rebranded using gender-neutral language. No more shall ‘Boys’ Stuff’ – planes, cars, marble runs and dinosaurs – be set against ‘Little Miss Arty’ fripperies – fairies, princesses and, um, handbag decoration kits.
The extremists at the Let Toys Be Toys campaign have had their way. Henceforth it shall all be one miserable, colourless, unisex landscape. Come April, you’ll exit the M&S Food Hall and find yourself in the toy equivalent of the GDR.
As a mother of boys, I’m obviously worried. If there is no longer to be a label telling me what ‘stuff’ is suitable for my offspring, how will I know? What if I accidentally purchase something that features the colour pink or, worse still, a flower? What if I buy something that I think is blue - only to open the package and discover it’s purple? What will that do to my little darlings’ sense of self? It doesn’t bear thinking about.
Someone had to address this crime against gender stereotyping. Step forth the Telegraph’s Tim Stanley, noble defender of our children’s freedom to be told what they can and can’t play with for no apparent reason:
World goes a bit more anal and daft: "Marks and Spencer to make all its toys gender neutral" http://t.co/BImJu87SRM
— Tim Stanley (@timothy_stanley) December 18, 2013
Yes, world! How dare you be so anal and daft as to remove the phrase ‘Boys’ stuff’ from toys that anyone could play with! It’s almost as though imaginative play was actually supposed to be imaginative.
Other people are unhappy, too. Ryan Bourne of the Centre for Policy Studies, having helpfully nominated M&S for the ‘White Feather Award’ (for cowardice) points out that “some people don’t want society to fundamentally change”. That’s true. One day we’ll have girls playing with marble runs and the next the whole of society will be a cross between the Two Ronnies’ The Worm That Turned and that Nicholas Cage remake of The Wicker Man. Happy now, feminists? Honestly, just look at where it will all lead:
Hoping by next year M & S will abolish "female" and "male" clothing sections too. Just pile the clothes in one big heap so no one's offended
— Madeleine Teahan (@MadeleineTeahan) December 18, 2013
That’s right, because it’s impossible – absolutely impossible – for some things to be gender-specific without everything being gender-specific. If you don’t place everything in some arbitrary gendered category then . . . then, you know, it’ll all be bad.
You mark my words. We’ve been on this road to ruin ever since voting stopped being a ‘Boys’ Stuff’ activity and now look where we are: a situation in which a little girl might think it’s okay to play with a plastic dinosaur. I despair, I really do.
Of course, some people are happy about the M&S decision. Take Paris Lees, for instance:
This is great news, I had all my 'girl' toys taken from me as a child. Let kids play with whatever the hell they want http://t.co/8JLYU0LkQy
— Paris Lees (@ParisLees) December 18, 2013
Lees would say that, though, having recently written a brilliant piece for the Guardian describing her path from bullied child to transgender woman. In it, she adds more detail to what’s merely alluded to in her tweet.
It’s worth reading in full:
"Daren [Lees’ father] had made me gather up all my "girl" toys and put them in a box when I was sent to live with him. The boy-toys could stay – Pirate Lego and Mighty Max – but the Polly Pockets and Disney dolls had to go. You're not at your mother's now, son, he told me – and boy didn't I know it.
I'm still not sure if he thought it was unhealthy for his son to play with dolls or if he simply couldn't bear to be around it. Or both. He told me he'd given the box to Barnardo's, but when we went to look for it, the shop assistant told my mama that nothing like that had been handed in."
I find this heartbreaking but then again, what can you do? Humiliating a child and taking away objects that are of great meaning is, apparently, a necessity. Or at least it was. God forbid that all this should change now.
If we allow children the right to openly express their toy preferences – if we let them be themselves, without feeling ashamed - then there are nebulous bad things that will happen. I don’t know what they are, but with Marks and Spencer following Toys R Us, Tesco and others in their rejection of overt gender-specific labelling, I imagine we’ll find out soon.
Don’t say I didn’t warn you. Parents and guardians of all things gendered, stock up on your ‘Boys’ Stuff’ while you can.