Last week, signing a batch of pet bills to end the legislative session, Governor Gavin Newsom made California the first state in the nation to require gender-neutral retailing. The law, which will take effect in three years, is limited to toys and “childcare products” sold by big companies.
It will never be enforced, since in essence it’s already happening. Target dropped boys and girls toy sections in 2015, and for years retailers have been moving away from gender-specific labels. But the law’s emptiness is immaterial. The point is not to weed out a bias or fix a pressing wrong.
The act is a victory for LGBT advocates who claim that sellers pressure children to conform to gender stereotypes and stigmatize non-conformers. California lawmakers have tried to pass the bill before, with previous versions failing in 2019 and 2020. Critics think government should not force a private company to organize or display its merchandise, and worse, use criteria to do so based on political ideology.
Democratic Assemblymember Evan Low, co-author of the bill, contends that separating children’s toys by marketed gender “is the antithesis of modern thinking.” He adds, “I think it’s important that we as a state are demonstrating our values of diversity and inclusion.” Low’s Silicon Valley constituents are partisans of the kind who take great pleasure in trying to destroy a James Damore or Aaron Persky for less than “modern thinking.” (Damore challenged reigning gender orthodoxies at Google in 2017 and was hounded out of the company for his views. Santa Clara County voters recalled Judge Persky the following year for his lenient sentencing of Stanford date-rapist Brock Turner.)
For Low and his allies, re-centering identity narratives is political job number one. An Asian American and LGBT activist, Low compares his lawmaking to statutes that require public companies to add women to boards, force employers to release pay data, and require single-occupancy bathrooms to use “all gender” signs.
“Traditionally children’s toys and products have been categorized by a child’s gender,” Low said in a statement he provided to the assembly’s judiciary committee. “In retail this has led to the proliferation of STEM-geared toys in a ‘boys’ section and toys that direct girls to pursuits such as caring for a baby, fashion, and domestic life.”
The act’s co-author, along with Low, is spirited Assemblymember Cristina Garcia of Los Angeles. The assembly has investigated Garcia for on-the-job sexual harassment, drunkenness, and other irregularities, but that has not cooled her ambitions. Newsom signed into law last week two additional bills she sponsored. California public schools are now required to provide free menstrual products. Stealthing, or removing a condom during sex without verbal consent, will become a civil sexual battery offense.
California is where reality-based outlines of more grounded, less clement polities fade to black, and the politics of woo-woo are box office. Murder and mayhem and madness aside, the legislative rapture continues, unrestrained by executive diligence. Compounding the folly, Newsom farms out mundane tasks of state government to flunkies while beaming for news cameras. He nonetheless easily withstood a September recall effort, which placed him in the running as a leading 2024 Democratic presidential candidate.
The state has manifold burdens, many of them unglamorous but nonetheless essential to the wellbeing of some 40 million residents. Housing is notoriously expensive. Downtowns and on-ramps teem with panhandling vagrants and junkies. Indigents and freeloaders strain social-service resources. Serious crime and lawlessness have shot up statewide over the last two years. The California Teachers Association and Department of Education are studies in public union self-interest and bad government. Water, electricity, and fuel supply issues loom in the future. Facing severe drought and fire challenges, officials stoke climate change fears. Thanks to its soak-the-rich fiscal policies, the state is rolling in money. The problem is, many taxpayers are leaving, and moving to places like Park City, Utah, and Austin, Texas.
Gender-neutral retail laws are objectionable from a libertarian or free-enterprise perspective, of course. But it’s comical when lawmakers try to erase the human race’s most instinctive feature by fiat. What is not so funny is that gender woo-woo can lead to poor governance, antic policy priorities, and reckless medical procedures.
Meanwhile, God or Nature or the Peacock Spirit Animal seems to have arranged that the human species, up from flatworms like other mammals, would continue itself by mixing male and female chromosomes. Its produce would then grow up to sexual maturity to create more XX and XY chromosomes. This sexual dimorphism is everywhere, not only in humans, and it is invigorating, the essence of life, and a source of wonder, vexation, and pleasure. Any mandate that repudiates it is rightly suspicious and doomed.
Hollywood’s and Silicon Valley’s commercial researchers have undoubtedly done extensive, revealing, and very accurate psychographic studies on the sex-based preferences of children and teenagers. Despite feigning gender purity in licensing products or re-writing employee codes, the Burbank-based Disney Company knows pirates from princesses, as do Lego and Hasbro. When you wish upon a star, Disney has long crooned, makes no difference who you are. But gender does make a difference, and the merchants of toys and political thought know it does. In spite of foolish laws, so do most California residents, including, I would guess, Governor Newsom.
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