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The Unisex Child

by James Lileks

A Swedish toy catalogue has made a decision to go “gender neutral” for Christmas: boys with baby dolls, girls with guns. Possibly hermaphrodites with Magic 8 Balls that say only “Unclear, try later.” No more pink and blue! Very progressive.

“With the new gender thinking,” said the director of Top Toy’s sales department, Jan Nyberg, “there is nothing that is right or wrong. It’s not a boy or a girl thing, it’s a toy for children.”

Is Jan a male or a female? With the new gender thinking, who knows? Who cares? Maybe Jan is a man but identifies as a female who considers herself male. That’s probably the only way they’ll let you be butch in Sweden. If you want to argue with a woman that she’s half the man she thinks she is, go right ahead.

Gender neutrality is different from Equality, which is now the conservative viewpoint, really. Forward-thinking Swedes want to erase any reference to gender, so people stop thinking there are differences between men and women. Because there aren’t any! Men and women have the exact same attitudes towards shoes and contact sports and salad for lunch.

If you just got a Victoria’s Secret catalogue in the mail and are having trouble denying these nonexistent differences, it’s nothing a little dab of Newspeak can’t fix. A Swedish linguist invented a term that applies to both sexes: hen. An English equivalent would be “shim” or “hesh” or some other such term that marks its user as a someone whose work ID invariably contains the word “University.” The term is popular in Swedish schools whose curriculum is built around extirpating gender, where the ideal family consists of two children of vague gender raised by three aunts, one of whom has to take pills to suppress her beard and keep the testicles down to the size of pencil erasers.

As the website “” puts it: “Fans of ‘hen’ believe that true equality cannot be reached without gender neutrality. As long as the distinction is made, it reaffirms differences between male and female and perpetuates stereotypes.”

Uh-huh. And we should use “Dayght” to describe the diurnal cycle, lest we remind people of the differences between day and night. This has nothing to do with carving out a space for children whose parents don’t fit the ordinary — dare we say, normal — paradigm of mom and dad. It’s about eliminating an obvious fact so nonconformists don’t feel ostracized by the remnant presence of a historical, cultural, and biological precedent. Progressives aren’t satisfied with simply respecting things that fall outside the norm. The norm has to be demolished. The very existence of the norm is hurtful. If 0.05 percent of the population were missing a hand, they’d want 100 percent of the population to have their arms lopped off, so we could all be equally clumsy at feeding ourselves with spoons tied to toes.

The end result of “new gender thinking”? A male OB-GYN files hate-speech charges against a woman because she wants a female doctor.

It’s not the first time the catalogue has used non-gender-specific imagery for the Solstice-Oriented Goods-Exchange Festival. Earlier this year a toy catalogue showed a boy in a Spider-Man costume pushing a pink pram. He was wearing a mask, so his mortification was unrecorded. No doubt next year a boy will be wearing a Superman costume with a detachable pectoral region so he can nurse a Green Goblin doll. In the XX-chromosomal portion of the catalogue, a girl is shown with a gun, which is the only way you can get a firearm into a kid’s-toy catalogue these days. It’s not violent if it’s empowering.

Good luck with all that. Give a boy a Barbie, and he’ll extend the arms perpendicular to fashion a pistol grip and imagine that the legs are the barrels of the gun. I had G.I. Joe, a grim-looking character with a scar, a bazooka, and a huge backpack-radio he used to call in airstrikes on the Commies who had taken over the Lego Fort on the moon. This came entirely from my upbringing. Dad would sit me down, his war medals pinned to his chest — to this day I really wish he’d worn a shirt; that must have hurt — and he’d point to the moon. “Up there, it’s all Reds,” he’d say, a faraway look in his eyes. “Maybe you’ll grow up to nuke ’em. Give ’em one for me.” Then he’d pat me on the back and go in the kitchen and strangle a ham sandwich.

Somehow I grew up to think that men and women were equal, but I have to admit: The sight of my mother pregnant with my sister made me suspect they were different.

It should be noted that the Swedish company Ikea, which sells slabs of laminated particle board configured into furniture shapes, made news earlier this year when it neutralized the gender of women in its Saudi catalogues. It removed them entirely, lest men be enflamed by the sight of a married family that did not include six brothers beating the woman with sticks for admitting she dreamed she was driving a car.

Such things are regrettable but best left to international conferences where Strongly Worded Statements can be issued on nice thick paper with embossed letterheads. In the end the entire Middle East tumbles into the bubbling tar pit of Islamist constrictions, and the Swedish gender scholars tut-tut and get back to the real issues of the day. Pity about those Egyptian women, yes, but look at this ad: A boy is playing with a truck.

Really, something must be done.

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