The hidden danger of Mr Potato Head’s gender neutrality.

Mr Potato Head will now be known as Potato Head. The popular toy is no longer male according to Hasbro and the decision set social media alight as people reacted to the gender labelling of a plastic toy. People wanted to know why the decision was made, why it was made now, and the wider social implications of the decision.

At any time, did Hasbro consider the hidden danger of declaring Potato Head gender neutral; the danger that the decision trivialises the issue of gender neutrality in humans?

Potato Head is not a person. Potato Head is a plastic toy. It has no emotions, no intelligence, no feelings and no personality. It is not a sentient being. A toy cannot decide its own gender and a toy has never suffered the personal or public trauma of grappling with gender identity. A toy will never be teased. A toy has never been cast out or shunned by its peers, colleagues, friends or family.

A toy does not have to live in a body it despises due to societal, familial, cultural or religious pressure. A toy does not have to decide whether to identify as gender neutral, or to go further and undergo a physical transition from its gender of birth.

A toy is just pieces of moulded plastic.

The danger of declaring a plastic toy gender neutral is that people who label themselves gender neutral can now be compared to a plastic toy.

“So you’re gender neutral, just like Mr Potato Head,” others will say.

Furthermore, the toy will still exist as Mr Potato Head – just the branding on the box will change. What’s the point?

This further trivialises the issue of gender neutrality -as if Hasbro is saying,

“We will make a stand on a social issue, but not if it means we sell fewer toys…”

If toys become gender neutral, can other inanimate objects be declared gender neutral?

Let’s not beat around the bush, Hasbro made this decision with a purely commercial motivation and accompanied it with all the right corporate euphemisms. Hasbro claims the change aims to ‘promote gender equality and inclusion’, but clearly the move also posited Hasbro as a socially responsible company which is set to gain considerable PR benefit.

Potato Head is also an ageing ‘brand’. The Toy Story franchise is now old, and children have moved on to other toys and other cartoons. Declaring the toy gender neutral earns the company international publicity which is likely to increase sales.

Is this why Mrs Potato Head is still female?

Will Hasbro wait for her husband’s publicity to die down before declaring her neutrality?

Perhaps gender neutrality also allows Hasbro to sell more individual pieces, belonging to both genders, to stick onto the base shape of the Potato. This mix and match technique made Potato Head, and Mrs Potato Head, somewhat unique as a toy, but also created a marketing opportunity:

“Now that Potato Head is gender neutral,” Hasbro can say “you can add even more pieces to its ‘body’ – and you can buy them all right here…”

Is it only a matter of time before Woody, Buzz and the remaining Toy Story characters are declared gender neutral, and when this happens, how much damage will have been done to actual human beings who identify as gender neutral?

Image: http://www.theguardian.com

The problem with Harry Styles and the Vogue cover.

The Vogue magazine cover featuring Harry Styles is problematic. The decision to dress the famous singer in female attire has and saturated the mass media with supportive and critical gender-based commentary, and this is a problem.

Placing a man in a dress on the front cover of a mainstream fashion magazine is a distraction. It is a distraction from more important gender issues facing the modern world.

There are real discussions to be had, and real action to be taken, in the realm of gender inequality. A man wearing a dress is not one of those. If a man wants to wear a dress, let him wear a dress, it’s not a big deal.

Violence against women, workplace harassment, the gender pay gap, gender discrimination and domestic violence are all important issues.

Violence against women continues throughout the world. Women continue to be victims of violence at the hands of men, and this issue needs to be discussed and dealt with. The physical and emotional powerlessness of women in so many contexts needs to be discussed and acted upon so that women throughout the world can live without suffering violence.

If there is one advantage of the Vogue cover, it is the potential to challenge the toxic masculinity which fuels a lot of the violence against women.

The world should be discussing measures to end violence against women, not discussing Harry Styles in a dress.

Workplace harassment is a reality for many women throughout the world. In so many workplaces, women’s voices are not heard. They suffer power imbalances and the men who hold that power exploit it to harass women physically, mentally and emotionally. This continues to happen in every nation and can only be addressed when it is part of a daily discussion, and daily action.

Women are still excluded from more senior and more lucrative professional positions on the basis of gender. Women are still being excluded from the decision making cliques within workplaces, even though all of the decisions made impact upon them.

The world should be talking about ending workplace harassment, not Harry Styles in a dress.

Somehow, the gender pay gap still exists. In 2020, women are often paid less for doing exactly the same job as men, or earn less because the occupations in which they are more likely to work (health, education, community service…) earn far less than occupations dominated by men.

One of the most vulnerable groups in society is older women, who are not able to save as much money during their lowly-paid careers and find themselves in financial hardship later in life – but not many people talk about this.

It is said that pornography is the only occupation in which women earn more than men. Thus, the only occupation which collectively advantages women is an industry which objectifies women.

We should be discussing how it is possible to pay women less than men, and not the fact that Harry Styles wore a dress.

Underlying the gender pay gap, sexual and physical violence against women, and workplace harassment, is gender discrimination. Within society, within relationships and families, within the media and within other institutions such as religion and the legal system, women are still discriminated against.

Institutional and entrenched gender discrimination should be at the forefront of discussions in the media and society, not the fact that Harry Styles wore a dress.

Publicity…

It’s important to remember that the Vogue cover has generated an enormous amount of publicity. Whether opposing or supporting the cover photo, people are talking about Vogue (as is this article). Publicity was always going to accompany the first ever Vogue cover featuring a man, but the comments have all centred on his wardrobe choice.

Who decided to put the pop star in a dress? Did Styles decide? If so, good luck to him. Did Vogue decide? It is a fashion magazine compiled by fashion experts, so perhaps it was a stylistic decision. Perhaps a designer or fashionista decided that Styles looks good in a dress – don’t forget that fashion is entirely superficial and based on appearance, and aesthetics had to have been a major consideration when arranging the clothing for the photo shoot.

It’s all good publicity for Styles, for Vogue and the designer. In an era of global financial hardship and falling magazine sales, the publicity generated by this cover is extremely valuable. The internet is also flooded with merchandise featuring the famous image.

The end of masculinity.

Scores of men rushed to social media to decry the end of traditional masculinity, but did Styles ever conform to stereotypes of traditional masculinity?

Harry Styles put on a dress. Someone took his photo, and it appeared on the cover of a magazine. It’s not a big deal. Gender discrimination which underscores violence against women, workplace harassment and the gender pay gap are all big deals. This is what we should be talking about.

And don’t forget, this debate surrounds a magazine cover featuring…a man.

Image: Vogue, Tyler Mitchell

Is this bathroom gender neutral or gender specific?

I walked into the bathroom and I was confused. The signs on the walls confounded me.

Male. Female. Male and Female.

I just wanted to take a shower after another day of sweltering heat and humidity in Taiwan, but now I was faced with this conundrum.

What should I do? Should I leave, should I stay? Should I ask for help or an explanation? My Mandarin is scratchy at best and I was midway through disrobing. I couldn’t ask for help. I would have to figure this out myself. The gender specific / gender fluid signage on the walls was not making it easy.

Naturally I should use the male. But why present the female option in exactly the same place, and confuse the matter even more by offering a combined male and female option?

Were guests to shower together? Was it a water saving method? I’m all for environmental sustainability, but I was alone. Is a single person identifying as a single definitive gender allowed to bathe in this space?

I stood dumbfounded with soap at the ready and a desperate need to be clean. Then I ventured even further down the rabbit hole…

Is gender neutrality common in Taiwan?

Is gender fluidity or non-binary self identification accepted in this country? It might be in Taipei, the cosmopolitan capital, but what about here in Fenglin? Smaller regional centres tend to be more conservative, so it stands to reason that this would be true in little Fenglin. Then again, how would I know? I’d only arrived here today after a lengthy train trip and a long sweaty walk through the streets with my heavy pack slung on my back.

I shouldn’t make assumptions about a city that I’d barely met.

So, which one do I use?

Then I had an idea. A good idea. No, a brilliant idea. I knew who to ask. I crept toward the bathroom door with my towel around my waist. I peered outside. I looked right, I looked left. Clear. I made a mad dash for my room, quickly turned the key in the door and entered.

I sought out the wise one. The one who could surely answer my question. There is no wiser. I asked Elmo.

Elmo didn’t have the answer. Elmo didn’t have any answer. He said nothing. It was all to much for him as well. I retraced my cautious steps to the bathroom to face the challenge alone.

I scanned the signs again.

Male.

Is there such a thing as male bath gel? I’d never heard of it. I usually just bought the soap that was cheapest and most environmentally friendly (if available) and I didn’t even realise soap could be gender specific.

Does male soap contain different properties? A different scent would be plausible. Maybe I should sample the soap before using it. Dab a little on my wrist and sniff lightly – perhaps dab a little behind the ear and see if I take to it.

Female.

And female soap. Is it softer, more delicate on the skin. Oops, there I go, projecting again, perpetuating age-old gender stereotypes. I wonder how the good folk of Fenglin would react if I wandered the streets emitting an aroma of female bath gel. I wonder if they would even detect it under the omnipotent pungent sweat.

Male and female.

This is too much.

One soap is designated male, another soap is designated female and supposedly ne’er the twain shall meet, but the hair conditioner is gender neutral. This didn’t make any sense to me. Surely the most salient difference between male and female grooming trends is the length and style of one’s hair.

The conditioner must be gender neutral. But not non-binary, because non-binary folk don’t identify as any specific gender. And if the label denotes male and female this proposes that the conditioner can be used by both genders, and perhaps used together.

How do they make male and female conditioner; do they just mix the male soap with the female soap?

50-50?

At some point I had to make a decision. I was standing in the middle of the bathroom all sweaty and smelly and silly and I just wanted a shower. I had to take the plunge.

I could always try a little of all three. I could embrace my feminine side as well as reinforcing my masculinity, and if I applied too much of either I could restore the natural balance with a dollop of the male and female product.

Right. That’s it. That’s what I’ll do.

Then I realised I had another problem. What to do with all these taps?

Is there a male and female tap?

Male is right – female is left.

That’s what I was taught in army cadets when affixing my belt for parade. The male part always went on the right hand side of the webbing. The same rule could apply here. That said, they drive on the other side of the road in Taiwan so maybe tap selection demands this role reversal as well.

Should I touch the female tap?

Is male hot and female cold, or is that assumption sexist? Are men hot blooded and women more tempered? Can a woman be hot? Yes, but if I call a woman hot am I objectifying that woman? If I call a man hot am I gay? Is there anything wrong with being gay, or am I just being homophobic?

Is anyone a man or a woman?

Now we’re back at the soap dispensers?

Maybe I should have a warm shower. That would be safer. Less likely to complicate the discussion or offend anyone. But there’s no one else in the bathroom, certainly no one else in the shower. No one to offend.

Actually, what I really wanted was a cold shower after enduring the tropical heat all day. I kept hoping, praying for the mass of angry black clouds to burst and release a downpour of gloriously refreshing rain on the small town.

I wanted to dance joyously in the soothing rain and rid myself of the layers of sweat clinging to my skin. But bathing in public was sure to offend someone, even if gender assumptions did not.

I showered;

Cold water. Mixed soap. No major side effects. I was clean.

After all that excitement I was exhausted. I needed to sit down. I needed to find a beautiful, relaxing chair on which to rest my tired self and contemplate one of the most complicated showers I had ever taken.

Where would I find such a chair?

In the elevator of course.

Image: http://www.pridelife.com

I Thought You Were A Woman.

Someone I have never met told me they thought I was a woman. I’m not. They made this assumption based on my Instagram account.

The person is a friend of a friend and stumbled upon my Instagram account, as people do within the world of social media. They requested to follow, I accepted, and they perused my photos.

The person then messaged me in surprise and told me that she thought I was female.

Why?

Because of the content of my Instagram posts.

Essentially, all of my posts depict nature or books. Once I’ve read a book that I like, I take a photo of the cover and maybe and excerpt from the book and I post it on my account. Actually, I haven’t done this for a while, I think I just forgot.

Otherwise, my Instagram account contains images of nature. When I go hiking, cycling, camping or into nature, I like to take photos of sunsets, beaches, plants, trees, skylines and animals. I’d like to have more photos of animals but they’re hard to capture with a basic smartphone lacking a decent zoom. If I do capture an animal it’s always a bonus.

Almost every one of my posts depicts lakes, rivers, mountains, trees, rocks, sand, sun and surf, because I love nature and try to spend as much time in it as possible. My account contains almost no images of myself.

I don’t like appearing on camera and I’m not vain or beautiful enough to be an Instagram model, so I don’t take many selfies. I do appear in other people’s photos or have friends take photos of me, but I just have no interest in posting them online.

I explained to the woman that I am in fact a man, and we had a good laugh about it. It did make me think, however.

Why would someone think that I was female after seeing photos of books and nature?

Have we been conditioned to think that an interest in or respect for nature is feminine? Can only women appreciate and express an appreciation for nature, and is this linked to a woman’s role as a nurturer and care giver?

If this is the case, does it explain the current state of the world’s climate and the natural environment?

Mother Earth, as we often call it, is in trouble after years and years of human abuse, and this abuse is continuing even though we now know better. We now know that previous practices are harming the planet upon which we rely for our survival but we continue with these practices.

Is this cycle of destruction perpetuated because men still rule the world? Certain organisations, businesses and countries have a woman in the top job, but the system which was created by men is still controlled by men. If a man is not expected to love nature, even via an Instagram account, protecting the environment into the future will be very difficult, because men are still making most of the decisions which determine the state of the planet.

Is it time to give women a turn? Really give them a turn. Not just appoint a few women to the position of national or corporate president, not just vote women onto boards or executive positions, but replace men in large numbers at every level of government, business and other sectors of society. Men had their turn running the world, the planet is in very bad shape, so maybe it’s time they were replaced.

If the men running the world were the starting players on a sporting team, their results suggest it’s time they were taken off and replaced by those who have been waiting their turn on the reserves bench.

Can you love nature and still be a man?

Do we have to change paradigms of masculinity to include respect for nature and pride in publicly expressing a love for the natural world?

Do we need to reach a point at which assumptions cannot be made about someone’s gender because they display images of nature on a social media account?

Can Gay people save the world?

gaypeople

The biggest problem facing the world at present is overpopulation. Gay people could help us solve that problem.

The number of people on the planet is placing enormous strain on resources and population numbers look set to increase. One solution to this problem is to limit the number of children being born, and gay people could play a large part in this.

Before we continue, it is important to establish that, for the sake of this article, ‘gay’ and ‘homosexual’ refer to men in relationships with other men, and women in relationships with other women. Yes, the article does use a very narrow definition of gender, but the premise of the article is based on the simple fact that ‘gay’ people cannot naturally reproduce.

This, therefore, is the starting point for our theory.

Gay people cannot naturally reproduce, and, therefore, cannot naturally add more people to the population. Even in countries in which same-sex marriage has been legalised, biology prevents couples from creating their own children.

What about artificial insemination?

Yes, gay people can turn to modern medicine to help them start a family, and this has been successful in many cases. But, remember, effective and safe insemination services are only available in wealthy countries, and sometimes only to the more wealthy people in those countries. Most people in the world are not wealthy, most people work very hard to put food on the table every day. So, while this option helps create loving families in some parts of the world, it is not a realistic option for most couples.

Plus, artificial insemination adds another human to the planet.

What about surrogacy?

Like artificial insemination, this is another successful method used to bear children. But, like insemination, it is often only realistically available to couples from wealthy countries. Many women is poorer countries do act as surrogates, but only out of sheer economic desperation. Surrogacy can place significant strain on a woman, and lead to dire results. Furthermore, many men in these patriarchal societies are unlikely to approve of their wives carrying a child for other people – unless there is significant financial compensation.

Plus, surrogacy adds another human to the planet.

A one-child policy?

China tried the one-child policy. It didn’t work, for the simple reason that any system that is created by humans can be exploited by humans.

Interestingly, in the case of the one child policy in China, apparently, the ‘one child’ referred only to the women. If a man divorced his wife, then re-married, he was apparently allowed to have another child with the new wife – therefore bringing two children into the world.

What about adoption?

Yes, gay couples can adopt, and many of them do. Through adoption, a child finds a home and a couple is gifted a child to love. It is usually a very positive outcome for all concerned, and it is a positive outcome for the planet because an adopted child has already been born. The parents of the adopted child are not creating another child and are therefore not adding to the world’s population.

Thus, gay couples adopting children is one effective solution to reducing the number of children being born, and this is clearly the most humane solution to limiting population growth.

What are the other methods of limiting population growth?

A human cull.

Extermination of people in order to reduce the number of humans on the planet.

Yes, this is a deplorable suggestion, but it has been attempted before. It has been attempted by all of those people who filled the pages of your highschool history books – Hitler, Pol Pot, Stalin, Mao Zedong…many of whom deliberately attempted to eliminate particular groups of people. Surely this could never happen again, you argue, we are now too enlightened, we’ve learned from our mistakes.

Really?

Examine the rise of extremism throughout the world, and examine how many of these extremists are unemployed, poor, displaced and affected already by overpopulation.

Natural forces

Unfortunately, if population increases as it is expected, and if the world continues to operate according to the current reality, it is natural forces that will reduce population numbers.

This is not good.

Natural forces include hunger and starvation, borne from poverty, as more people compete for fewer jobs. Another natural force is environmental destruction, which is already destroying access to clean water, food sources, clean air and spaces fit for human habitation. Some people are already dying as a result of environmental destruction, and informed projections indicate that this phenomenon will only increase.

Another natural force is conflict. Conflict is inevitable in humans, but this primal trait will manifest itself more frequently and more obtusely in a world full of hungry, disillusioned people who have become economic and environmental refugees.

If gay people can help save the world, what is stopping this from happening?

Religion

Religion is an impediment to limiting population growth. Religion stigmatises or even criminalises homosexuality and same-sex relationships which not only causes harm to homosexual people, but often forces them into marriages they do not want. These marriages produce children. Often those children are loved, and provided for, but they would not have been born if one, or both, of the parents had not been heavily pressured to conform to their society’s dominant religious belief.

We might also digress and examine the fact that religion discourages contraception and many religious families bear many children. Furthermore, religion, of any kind, is often a barrier to abortion and so many women give birth to child that they either didn’t want or can’t realistically support. Legalising and providing safe access to abortion is one way to not only to control population numbers but it helps to ensure that many children do not enter the world without the love and support that they need in order to thrive.

Men.

As long as men control women’s bodies and reproductive rights, limiting population numbers will be impossible. Men still largely control legislation, relating to issues such as abortion and LGBTQI rights. Men still control religions. Men still control relationships and, in most parts of the world, men determine if a woman will fall pregnant.

Ignorance and intolerance.

Ignorance, intolerance, hate and criminalisation of homosexuality often forces many men and women to remain in the closet. As discussed earlier, many gay and lesbian people are living in marriages they would not choose if it were not for the stigma attached to homosexuality in their societies.

Removing stigma, criminalisation and discrimination against the LGBTQI community should enable more people to live as they want to live, and may, in turn, help reduce the world’s population and create a more livable planet for everyone.

Image: Vector Stock