Gender neutrality to become mainstream
Gender neutral or gender neutrality is a term that is now common place in the media, however what does it actually mean? Well, before we get on to gender neutrality and its inherent ideological place in society, it is important to make the distinction between sex and gender. Sex refers to a person’s biological anatomy and reproductive organ (genitals). Gender on the other hand refers to the socially ascribed role or personal identification that a person can choose to fulfil. Therefore sex and gender can be entirely unrelated concepts as a person can be born with male sex organs but identify as female from a sociological gender perspective. So now that we’ve clarified the difference between gender and sex, we can tackle gender neutrality.
Gender neutrality or identifying a gender neutral means that a person does not identify with the specific roles or genders associated with either sex. Gender neutrality in an ideological perspective can be seen as ‘designed to eliminate gender discriminations’. Gender neutrality is controversial in many countries as the definition of gender neutrality differs – in some countries it takes on a more literal meaning and in others, a sociological and ideological one. With gender neutrality comes a specific lexicon of gender neutral language. Most of the pronouns that we use on a daily basis are gender specific i.e. him, her, he, she etc. and can be replaced with the pronouns such as ‘they’ and ‘them’ which constitute as gender neutral. The gender neutralisation of linguistic terms is also applicable to professions, as many of them are also gender specific such as actor, actress, chairman and chairwoman, policeman and policewoman, steward and stewardess – the list goes on. The gender neutral alternatives to such include the likes of police officer, chairperson and flight attendant. The use of language that is gender specific can be seen as “linguistic gender prescriptivism”, which can be used to reinforce or eliminate gender stereotypes depending on how it’s used.
The notion of gender neutrality has gained popularity particularly with the millennial generation and millennial parents who have eschewed the pink for girls and blue for boys’ rhetoric. The same concept is applicable to the toys that were previously associated with girls such as Barbie dolls and baking sets, or building blocks and balls for boys. Mattel, a massive toy manufacturer and particularly of Barbie doll fame have listened to these influential consumers and have created what they call the “world’s first gender neutral doll”. The doll in question has no discernible male or female characteristics by design, however it does come with an interchangeable wig of long hair, as well as a diverse wardrobe that can fulfil any gender neutral or specific whim a child might have. The idea behind the new ‘non-binary’ doll range is “a doll line designed to keep labels out and invite everyone in” (Mattel, 2019). The move by the toy manufacturer may be a divisive one for the more conservative public because while many parents are happy to let their daughters play with toys previously seen as ‘designed for boys’, there seems to be somewhat more resistance to the idea of boys being able to play with dolls. The move by Mattel has been seen as a political or radical one, but many see it as a necessary one, and as Mattel’s President Richard Dickson maintains, if a child can find themselves in a toy – no matter how they identify, if “[Mattel] can make that moment in their life a bit more comfortable, and knowing [they] created something that makes them feel recognized, that’s a beautiful thing.”