Current Trends by Natasha Sapp

Last month Target announced it would be phasing out gender identifiers in toys, children’s bedding and entertainment as well as removing the colors pink, blue, yellow and green as subtle denotations of gender. Some thought it was a good step to stop identifying ‘boy’ toys in blue, ‘girl’ toys in pink, yellow being the unisex neutral for the neo-parent hyper vigilant about not ingraining gender roles, stereotypes, others would say simply without an imagination. Some thought it was just plain nuts ranting about the thin skinned nature of women, to an inappropriate comment about the Ohio mom of 3, who began this with a tweet’s, body mass index, to questioning priorities listing the numbers of murders, rapes, kidnappings, missing kids, carjackings; asking what was going on, happening in America. An individual vowing to no longer shop at Target calling them sensitive pricks. One pondering if boy and girl distinct names would be a thing of the past because someone thought that sexist while another wondered what was next, men’s and women’s clothes in the same department?  Still more thought we would be very soon wearing gender neutral jumpsuits by law, brought in homosexuality and its ‘perversion’ which has nothing to do with gender labels, gender bias or gender identity; comment sections usually degenerating into such talk when they weren’t again disparaging the mother who spoke out, finding it absurd Target would ‘cater’ to her. Trying to turn a negative to a positive in a backhanded way a commenter wrote in part, “Parents are responsible for teaching their children respect, and that they can do or be anything, not Target, but is she on to something, referencing the sign she did, a sign that read clearly building sets, next line building sets for girls; why do they need to be separated? Obvious too, commenters weren’t the child, didn’t have a child who was a girl and wanted the “cooler” looking stuff in the boys section, toys or clothes, with brighter colors and no pink, hated frills and wasn’t about to be caught dead wearing a dress, didn’t have a boy who liked non-typical gender toys and got laughed at, bullied or beaten up for them; worse forced their child into their socially assigned gender roles ignoring any consequences calling it the way life is, thinking no wonder the child got beat up if he wore that, did that, took that backpack to school. A news outlet commenting on the crux of the problem, perhaps over gender identifiers, it being a stupid sign; serious question then, if all this could be fixed using better, more articulate signs indicating categories of toys. Probably up to a point; dido with the same news anchors’ comment chastising toy companies, as much or more, than stores who ‘put pink and blue on everything’ to glaringly mark the gender their toy is intended for. Mystifying to me, why they (Target) didn’t identify supposed ‘gender specifics’ in this case by brand name, Lego, Lego Friends, Lego Barbie, aisle designation assorted building sets for lesser known brands. So if parents, grandparents, distant relatives are looking for a girls building set and whoever they’re buying for likes pink, purple, the themes encompassed in the Lego ‘girls’ offerings, you know where to go; everything else, it’s over there. Bedding, organize it by character or brand DC comics, Marvel comics tell you were to find your superheroes, Disney would give you everything from Disney Princess to Finding Nemo the store has; Nickelodeon would enfold Sponge Bob, Dora or Diego, Ninja Turtles, generic kid themed bed or bath materials with bright colors, animals easy to find also. Predictably as well is how hung up people became when hearing about the concept, invoking the dooms day scenario, incorporating religion, referencing the emasculating of men and on and on and on. Unnoticed are the kids who, as one news personality put it, self-sort arguably before they can read just running for the toys they want; unnoticed, the kid with the different tastes who won’t be put into boxes, what it opens up in broader contexts in teaching acceptance, exposing children to down the road career options through play. Ironically we championed, on the whole, the designer who put together an engineering set for girls, Lego when it came out with Lego Friends, Lego Barbie options for girls who also like the building blocks. Now we’re up in arms a store listened to a customer who was supported by a whole amassing group of customers by changing something they requested be changed?  Noted also, those parents who didn’t care so much about gender roles, about the message Target was sending, the message that parent was sending, the supposed gay-liberal agenda and were just concerned with how they were going to find gender appropriate toys for the kids in their lives who did conform to gender types, did want a typical toy, how signs like those at Target helped them, lamenting how long it would take from here on out to find what they needed, showing the true origin of their ‘outrage’ over the change.

Though the Ohio mom wasn’t the first to speak out about gender labeling on toys; she was upstaged by someone decades younger and a few years earlier in their fight to make toys for everyone, no matter what your gender and what you like to play with. This adorable 4-year-old’s in store rant went viral on YouTube in 2011 asking why companies where trying to trick girls into buying pink while also highlighting maybe a boy would like princesses too. Proving the success of girls can be anything they want to be campaigns, women continuing to break gender barriers in employment, career fields; going back a little further you have the movie GI Jane where Demi Moore’s character attempted to enter, was accepted into and completed prestigious navy seal training or, in real life, the women who just completed army ranger school passing all their tests, by men’s standards, with flying colors. The new hash tag campaign to further end stereotypes ilooklikeanengineer showcases women from all races, backgrounds, walks of life who have degrees in engineering, computer coding and related fields; unfortunately while women breaking into predominately men’s fields has been readily accepted, in recent years, men breaking into women’s fields has not.  Men who want traditionally female careers, boys who play with traditionally girl toys, regardless of the window it gives their parents, the world into what they hope to become someday, are immediately labeled gay, at best transgender, called derogatory names like sissy, fairy, wimp, anything indicating non-masculine, non-manly, lacking the standard macho aura we associate with men, who are men’s men, who conform to what’s expected of them. This remains the trend despite the steadfast acceptance today of male nurses, male chefs, think Emerald Lagasse or chef Gordon Ramsey, nearly the entire cast of The Chew, average cook at your local diner clearly displaying you’re not gay, sissy, girly if you like to cook, if you are good with patients and want to help people; male nurses can be an asset to hospitals helping male patients of all ages be less embarrassed about the care they need. Male teachers often get a bad rap because of the ones behaving badly, doing highly inappropriate and criminal things, but their presences in the profession has been the norm for decades spawning many inspirational stories of positive impact on a variety of students. That being said, old attitudes die hard despite  the growing acceptance of ideas represented when Michael Keaton played Mr. Mom in a 1980’s movie, stay at home dads; even looking at current culture where it financially makes sense for the dad to stay home while his wife, the mom works, there is a whole set of things geared toward 21st century Mr. mom’s, stay at home father groups, play dates for the children of at home dads and men feel more and more comfortable in this role, like the connection they gain with their son or daughter, multiple kids, demonstrate a real knack for it, that’s as far as it goes. Still more than a decade into the 21st century a male child who has so called gender queer play interests is bound to make his parents very, very nervous not only for their child’s psychological well-being, physiological make up but an intrinsic fear their child could be gay, the evolving term transgender; too many thinking either state of being is in itself a mental disorder. Take young Dyson Kilodavis who likes superheroes, but who also likes dresses first showing his unusual preference when he was 2, by 3 came beaming to his mother in a red sequin dress after daycare dress-up play time. Redirection to more boy activities didn’t work, didn’t quell Dyson’s interest in dresses, frilly things and dressing up; things came to a head on Halloween when this mother took her 2 sons shopping for a costume. Her oldest son picked out a Ninja Turtle and was excited; Dyson saw a princess outfit and begged for it, his mother freezing calling over his father, finally listening to her older son Dkobe tugging on her arm leading to a watershed moment when he said, why can’t you just let him be happy? An incident after school where he announced to his mother he was a pretty princess and his mother seriously corrected Dyson only girls where princesses, his equally strong response he was a princess boy soon led to a children’s book penned by his mother on accepting such children into your life as friends, playmates, understanding people for who they are and speaking at events like Gender Odyssey, a conference on transgender issues. Yet when he appeared on HLN’s Dr. Drew after the ABC airing of his story YouTube comments were about what you would expect, someone yelling about religion and god saying among other things, “Parents wake up ! Where are your cojones ? Take charge over your household stop letting satan have a field day in your home !!!! This is not the will of the father the bible says train your child when he is young and when he is old he will not depart from it . Another thing what if this boy does find Jesus like some people do and realizes the destructive path that his parents have allowed him to go down ? What then ? The damage has been done now he has to face the hard road of recovery to undo what he has been allowed to do his whole life . And don’t say it’s just cross dressing because the bible talks about cross dressing and it’s wrong . And cross dressing usually dosent stop there it more then likely leads to homosexuality.  Jesus love the sinner but hates the sin and that’s how I feel I love the sinner but hate the sin . I’m not perfect in any way we are all sinners but the bible talks about this type of sin specifically and on the day of judgment these parents will be held” Firstly our commenter says that assuming he, at age 5, is gay, an abomination according to the bible, or transgender seen as the same kind of sin, wrong, perversion; ignored, Dyson Kilo-Davis doesn’t just like wearing dresses he likes making them. Suggesting what you have is not a child who is gay, perhaps transgender, maybe gender confused, but a budding fashion designer who at age 5 likes dress up more than others because of that.  Interestingly contrasted is the young man who came up to Dyson wearing his butterfly backpack and said he liked butterflies too only for his father to pull him away, or the boy who was read the book My Princess Boy and said daddies that’s me.  Likewise suggesting Dyson is far from alone in his feelings, preferences; lining up more with the following commenter assessment of what Target is doing and why “It seems as though America is realizing that it needs to face reality. Some boys play with dolls and some girls play with trucks. Now there is no restrictions. In fact there truly never was because this has been happening for as long as I can remember. Some parents bought their child whatever they wanted. So this really isn’t shocking news at least to me anyway.”

Other indicators also point to the need for changes like what Target is implementing; many were outraged at the school discussed in the next video that banned a 9-year-old’s My Little Pony backpack, he used for a lunch box, because instead of banning the bullying, the unacceptable behavior on the part of the other student, who was harassing and tormenting their fellow classmate, their fellow school member for something perceived as girly, wrong for a boy to own, to want to have, bullying that could have manifested itself on any other topic up to and including that bag, they sent their own far from subtle message about gender conformity, the gender conformity they expected students to adhere to by banning the backpack. Instead of punishing the aggressor for their harassment, violence, whatever form the bullying took, taking the opportunity to teach students important lessons beyond the 3 R’s, using resources like those generated by Kilodavis or not, discussing gender identity or not, simply distilling it down to acceptance and tolerance of people who like different things, explaining his choice of lunch box as being no more out of the ordinary than your favorite color is red his is blue and another boy in class loves green, the school took the easy way out, made the convenient, for them, choice to get rid of the ‘offensive’ item not the source of the offense, making the victim feel punished, reinforcing there is something wrong with his tastes, wrong with him. Forget for a moment the child in question is 9, prepubescent, likes reading My Little Pony books, not necessarily just watching the cartoon, or the fact he chose the blue bag with the blue pony, blue being the stock standard color for boys, over the pink and purple ‘definitely girl’ options, signaling it’s a phase surrounding liking that cartoon, those books not a statement of effemininity. Never mind there is an entire ‘brony’ adult, male fan club who likes My Little Pony; whether this young man is one, becomes one is irrelevant to the fact it exists in the first place as do furry and plushy conventions attended by adult persons of both sexes making all this less “weird.” Next a 13 year old sister who got the attention of Good Morning America when she wrote toy maker Hasbro asking them to make multiple color, more boy friendly Easy Bake Ovens did so for her little brother who, apparently above all else, loves to cook and an Easy Bake Oven is a safe option at his age, who if he is concerned about the color has his social understanding of masculinity intact. His sister however saw that as no reason  he shouldn’t have what he wanted for Christmas without feeling like he was getting a ‘girls’ toy, and guess what Hasbro listened. Sometimes it’s about accepting who you are, doing what you like, having the courage to continue your interests, be yourself, the message of the young man and his unconventional backpack, and sometimes it’s about having things in multiple formats. Funny, we’re practically hyperventilating when a boy wants a girls toy, when a boy likes anything traditionally for girls, no matter the reason, while championing girls who stand up against the injustice of not being included, being stereotyped, marginalized, denigrated; nearly everyone stood behind the girl in the last video below when she challenged one companies characterization of pajama pants for boys and for girls, calling them lounge pants for boys and lazy pants for girls, and it was no brand name with a unique spelling, offerings for both genders, it was as if, the 9-year- old pointed out, Vineyard Vines was calling girls lazy if  they wore such pants, solution in hand too; can’t we all just wear comfy pants? Sadly remaining are elements similar to the ones in the previous paragraph who think the biggest problem with boys who express generally girl interests is a spiritual deficit where the devil is somehow involved, absentee fathers, weak fathers, lack of father figures, echoing gender experts appearing on shows like Dr. Phil who have asserted at issue isn’t their gender identity rather someone to show them how to enjoy their interests in masculine way; a boy who wants to be a ballerina give him the male ballet outfit and performance parts, with Dyson his mother should have forced him into a prince charming outfit at Halloween. Amazing really, though the whole family dad and big brother were present on the Dr. Drew airing, how many called Dyson’s story the emasculation of black men, thought his father was weak, emasculated, even a eunuch  because he accepted his son for who he was and was more concerned with his happiness, emotional wellbeing than our labels. Dyson who has seen psychologists calling his behavior normal play, Dyson who has an older brother who is ‘normal,’ gender conforming and wouldn’t want to be any other way discounting the idea it’s how the family raises their children. According to such mindsets, of people now largely considered ignorant and ill-educated, the gay father whose son identifies as a ‘princess boy’ is immediately explained as ‘he’s being raised by 2 fairies’ what do you expect and it becomes a platform about why gays, lesbians, bisexuals, transgender persons shouldn’t be parents, shouldn’t be allowed to foster or adopt children; completely dismissing their child was always like this and the book simply gave him words to articulate who he was. Dr. Keith Ablow’s reaction to the J. Crew president’s magazine cover, her painting her son’s toenails pink, also mentioned by ABC News in discussing adult reactions to gender is right up paranoids and gender-phobic’s ally, aligning with their belief there is something spiritually, psychologically wrong with people who don’t fit into their standard gender box; that he called it psychological sterilization and advised that president mom to set aside plenty of money for therapy solidifies their argument in their eyes. Worth remembering he is the same Dr. Keith Ablow who works for Fox News and blamed they Navy Yard shooting 2 years later on violent video games, used the former to rant about his pet peeve, the latter, nearly ignoring the elephant in the room, clear signs of mental illness exhibited by said shooter; odds are her little boy and his pink toenails will suffer no more lasting damage than all the kids whose parents post endearing, embarrassing, cute pics on Facebook, Instagram exc. documenting their childhoods, if nothing else he’ll have a lot of company.

And those elements are destructive especially in a “professional” package, backed by “professional” credentials such as Dr. Ablow’s, supported by assumed credible research; it sets the stage for happenings in Missouri when a transgender student request to use his mental emotional gender’s restroom and locker room instead of his physical one, which happens to be her, leads to huge uproar over which bathroom locker room “he” is allowed to use. Yes a gender neutral bathroom was placed in the school for transgender individuals like now Lila Perry and school officials were very understand and compliant with title XI parameters, but Lila refused to be isolated petitioning to use the restroom and locker room of the gender she feels she is, which sparked both student and parent protests, parents packing a school board meeting and students walking out of class for hours both in support and objection to Lila’s actions, intentions. Parents citing everything from a firm belief it is little more than a clever way to flout the school dress code, implied unfairness he gets to be out of code while others have to comply, to a man who reportedly had relatives at the school stating girls need their own locker room, boys need their own locker room and those who are perhaps confused need one just for them. Students largely behind Lila for her bravery, for her willingness to be who she is, but not all, one student somewhat apprehensive because Lila is still physically male has undergone nothing to make her female, feminine. Both implying a fear of possible harassment, violence or sexual assault on the part of the transgender student to a person, or persons, comprising the rest of the student body, assumptions Lila an intact male would be consistently making girls in the locker room uncomfortable with potential sexual attraction, would be flaunting those distinctly male parts throughout the locker room where everyone is naked, taking showers, scenarios there is absolutely no evidence of in places where this is already policy and has been for some time. Illustrating just how uninformed, particularly parents are about transgender individuals, no heterosexual male would announce himself transgender just to get in a girls locker room when he could sneak there, use tools as basic as cellphone video and a well-placed, well known hole in the wall to achieve the same result, the shame transgender persons feel about their bodies, especially genitals that don’t match who they feel they are, precludes the kind of excessive openness everyone is worried about. Generating comments such as, “Yes, because when I go into the restroom, I get an eyeful of genitalia every time.  Holy gods, the idiocy of these people.  She isn’t going into the girls room to do anything other than use the toilet or maybe wash her hands.  My daughter and her school friends had no issues with this when they had a transgender student in their school. Why do the adults have to be so ignorant and hateful?” California did exactly what Lila is petitioning her school to do on a state level 2 years ago to nearly twin reactions from adults, conservative advocacy groups concerned about the plight of girls on sports teams, in bathrooms, sharing locker rooms with biological males and number of headlines suddenly recording assaults, abuse, fraudulent use of the policy to the detriment of anyone, zero. Underscoring completely the unfounded nature of primarily adult paranoia, cities Sacramento and San Francisco had been operating under those rules for years before; again exactly zero problems. Further if a student did manage to pull off a hoax for the purpose of perpetrating an assault, getting an unfettered look at the opposite sex, they would likely face immediate disciplinary action, probable expulsion; fact is the transgender student is the one more likely to face some sort of assault or violence even with the presence of a gender neutral bathroom from their gender conforming classmates trying to convince them they are indeed the gender they were born. Another damaging truth, with or without newer guidelines being implemented nationwide state by state, school district by school district regarding transgender student accommodations and facilities, students have an equal, identical chance of harassment, physical or sexual assault at school regardless thanks to bullying, the perception you are any of the LGBT designations; guys who want to assault a girl, are both sick and brazen enough to want to do such a thing will simply follow her in when she is alone, after school, before school, anytime when no one else is around, over power her, cover her mouth, assault her and sneak out. Within the last 2 weeks a middle school in the same state as Lila had an incident with an adult who walked into the school, went into their gender appropriate bathroom presumably to use it and instead or in addition to, began exposing themselves to students coming into, going out of the restroom, when reported fled and was later captured in the community, transgender having nothing to do with it. Proving people who want to do something good or bad, sinister or well-intentioned will do it and using ‘regular,’ ‘normal’ society’s depravities as an excuse not to recognize the needs of an already vulnerable, at risk segment of society is almost as wrong as what you say you are trying to prevent and perpetuating equally devastating tragedies by your refusal to act on what is best for all the student body, not just the majority.

What about kids who do epitomize their gender, do play with all the ‘right’ toys, adore all the ‘right’ colors, hold the ‘right’ attitudes about things that are too sissy for a boy to do, play with, be a part of, too harsh, brutal, boyish for a girl, is there a negative effect on them; what about those experiencing gender confusion are we making it more complicated for them or easier for them? Again kids who typify their gender are, in that area at least, very sure of themselves and who they are, will easily be able to find the toys they want out of a gender neutral environment. Don’t forget children go through multiple stages and phases of both development and awareness, try on many hats, play with many toys, explore several interests on the way to finding who they are as people, as they grow to adulthood. A boy wanting to play with a doll may be more about where they are developmentally not about gender identity; a girl wanting to play with a truck or various sports balls may be an effort to keep up with brothers, cousins, a neighborhood filled with mostly boys not a ‘butch’ lesbian in the making. Dido with a preference for pants, sneakers and superheroes, bolder colors over pastels; it may be simply what they like, what is more comfortable for increasingly active play. I know because I was that child, I wanted the clothes in the boys department not because I thought I was one or really wanted to be one, but because I thought they looked better, were more vibrant, had the characters, TV shows on them I liked while my mother insisted on dressing me in pink, dresses if she could get me to wear them, settled for trying to find a girl equivalent to something I had ah-ed over in the boys department. Because I liked a variety of boy and girl toys across my childhood she was content to buy me whatever I wanted within monetary reason. My short hair and the public’s tendency to call me he because of it stemmed from me and my mother living on our own from the time I was 9 versus living with my grandmother and me needing a haircut I could manage on my own as opposed to my grandmother styling it, facts complicated by my mixed race and distinctly African  America hair known for being difficult when long; I relished the shorter style for lack of tangles and pain in bushing my hair and was only slightly annoyed with correcting everyone’s gender misconception, lasting to this day regardless if I am wearing a shirt practically advertising my chest. As an adolescent I had the same dislike many have in their changing bodies and awkwardness but never seriously wanted to change my gender or intensely felt I was born in the wrong body; in short I had the normal growing pains of a child going through puberty. Truly gender confused children may be signaling they are transgender or homosexual, both usually known from an early age, could be genuinely perplexed or gender fluid, something it could take professional help to figure out, help parents of those children would be wise to get, yet parents must balance carefully gender confusion and regular development.  Neither do we need to fear gender neutral jumpsuits, unisex names, men’s and women’s clothing jumbled in the same department largely because what Target has done is opened up what we all want more choices, going above and beyond what the parent originally asked for, correction of an insensitive, offensive sign, ultimately allowing the youngest people to make those choices free of judging influences inflicted by, of all people, retailers who wouldn’t exist without consumers, customers to buy their products. Too, unlike children’s clothing until you get into junior and miss sizes for teens, virtually identical except for color and character graphics, teen and adult clothing are made specifically for male and female adult bodies, skinnier in the hips and backside for men’s jeans and pants, slightly larger in the crotch area to accommodate anatomy, women’s pants wider in the hips, a little bigger in the seat, smaller the crotch, sizes differentiated by gender as well to better reflect needs of each body.  I still by all my outer clothes in the men’s department because they are slightly bigger, the sizes make more sense and I can still get t-shirts with logos I prefer comfortable pants with lots of pockets to carry items easily, shoes for my oddly shaped feet; the key being, these are choices I made and was allowed to make as an adult like I wasn’t as a child. Only time will tell if what was done at Target, what will probably spread to all major retailers children’s sections, will have some unforeseen lasting detriment or be a lasting positive for our country, our society, yet the one thing it is sure to do is promote what we all ultimately want, acceptance for who we are as human beings, what we have to contribute to the world.