It all started with a story in The Herald Sun earlier this week claiming that “Victorian councils are auditing libraries, schools and kindergartens and urging a ban on the terms ‘boy’ and ‘girl’ in a bid to teach kids as young as three to have ‘gender equitable relationships’.”
Within hours, Sunrise was also on the alleged story kicking off a segment by announcing that “Councils in Victoria are banning the terms boys and girls as they remove gender stereotyping from libraries and kindergartens.”
Less than a day later Sky News and news.com.au has raised debates spreading worry across Victoria on whether the new plan proposed by the Melbourne City council based on research from the Australian National University “could see the ditching of Barbie and Thomas the Tank Engine.”
Several commentators jumped on the social media bandwagon pushing the “issue” into the most trending subjects on Twitter and Facebook.
It did not take long for parents groups to start bombarding the council with questions amidst fears of their children’s gender identities being entirely erased and every notion referring to or implying of gender being removed from books.
Councillor Mary Lalios, the president of the Municipal Association of Victoria, took to the media to dissolve the rumours concerning Manningham and Melbourne City Councils.
“There will be no book or toy bans. Kids will continue to read childhood classics like Thomas the Tank Engine at their local library, kinder and childcare centre. We want to expand — not ban — the types of stories accessed by our kids to show experiences beyond gender stereotypes such as girls being the hero who saves the day and boys staying inside on a rainy day to bake,” she said.
According to Lalios the request was part of a 2016 initiative called “Building Resilience Through Respectful And Gender Equitable Relationships Pilot Project” aimed to improve gender equality and reduce domestic violence by intervening at a young age.
“Our libraries aim to promote diversity, not censor books,” a Melbourne City council spokesperson said. “None of the books mentioned in media reports have been banned. The books mentioned are in stock at City Library.”
Dr Tania King, one of the 40-page paper’s authors also sought to clarify what the research intended.
“Despite reports on the contrary, Victorian councils are not planning to remove any children’s books from library shelves under new gender guidelines informed by our research over the last few years,” she wrote on a University of Melbourne website.
“Research done in 2007 among three to five-year-olds found that at an early age, these kids were able to identify ‘girl toys’ and ‘boy toys’ — and predict whether their parents would approve or disapprove of their choice.” Among the observations highlighted, was that the more TV children watched the “more likely to believe that ‘boys are better'” they were suggesting kids’ exposure to TV should be moderated.
“We can never remove terms and categories that are a normal part of life such as ‘boys’ and ‘girls’, nor should we,” she added. “However, research does suggest that by minimising these distinctions on the basis of gender and making individual attributes and skills a priority, we can help reduce stereotypes, discrimination and bias, and instead, build inclusive behaviours in our children.”