JumpMag: Fighting Toxic Masculinity and Femininity in Childhood

06/06/2014 11:59 | Updated 05 August 2014

The consequences of toxic masculinity are seen every day in the media: male violence against women and girls in endemic. There are cultural differences in the labels given to male violence, as well as to the excuses made to minimise men's responsibility for the violence they commit but the violence itself knows no borders. Male violence is everywhere: from the "boys will be boys" excuses to sexualised advertising, street harassment, domestic violence and rape and murder. Women live every day with the reality. And, every day women are told they are over-reacting or are 'hysterical' when they talk about their experiences. The response by men to the Twitter hashtag #YesAllWomen, which was created in the wake of the mass murders committed by Rodger Elliot, only proves the level of gaslighting and psychological terrorism committed by men against women.

Toxic masculinity is real and it is killing us. It is killing women and children. It is also killing men. We need to start tackling men's rights extremists and toxic masculinity before we raise another generation of men who believe, like Andre Breivik and Rodger Elliot, they have the right to kill. We need to challenge it before teenage boys, like Ma'Lik Richmond and Trent Mays, commit rape because they believe they are entitled to access to women's bodies whenever and wherever they want. We need to end male violence because it is killing us all.

This is why I support projects like Let Toys be Toys and JumpMag. They may not be feminist campaigns but they both fight to end the gendered construction of childhood and the toxic structures of masculinity and femininity. Let Toys be Toys fights to degender toys - not simply by arguing that all children should have access to train sets but through the recognition that all children should be able to play with trains sets and toy kitchens. Gender neutral should not just mean that girls are allowed to play with 'boys' toys or like the colour blue. Gender neutral means that all children should be given equal opportunity to access all toys. It's not about banning toy kitchens or doll's prams but giving them to boys as well - after all, boys will need to learn to cook and many will become fathers. The skills they mimic as toddlers - from both their mothers and fathers - will help create a non-gendered world if fathers now start modelling effective child-rearing without expecting cookies (or use that ridiculous term "baby-sitting" when caring for their own children). Let Toys be Toys campaign against retailers labelling toys as "boys" or "girls". In an age when Disney can create a new line of Star Wars figures but forget to include Princess Leia, the subversive nature of Let Toys be Toys cannot be underestimated.

JumpMag has an even harder task than Let Toys be Toys in challenging toxic masculinity and femininity. It is an advertising free online magazine that is for all children but that has a girl as a logo, which directly challenges the utterly ridiculous theory that boys will never, ever read anything about girls or which looks like it is marketed at girls. JumpMag advertises itself as gender-neutral but girl-positive and is aimed at children aged 7-12. How many magazines for children of this age group aren't gendered? Ben 10 is marketed for boys and girls get pink magazines with make-up tips and "celebrity crushes". Girls magazines are indoctrinating girls into the capitalist-patriarchy where their only value is in their physical appearance. JumpMag was developed as a direct challenge to, frankly, capitalism. It isn't about selling a product but about challenging the need to sell products to children to teach them to be "real" boys and "real girls".

The fact that JumpMag had to be developed is actually quite depressing. We have known for years how toxic masculinity is harming everyone: it teaches boys that they need to be violent to be 'real' and tells girls that boys who harm them, by hair-pulling as children or intimate partner violence as teenagers, 'love' them. Books like Twilight normalise stalking, harassment, and coercive control as 'normal' in relationships. Ben 10 teaches boys that girls are only sidekicks who clean up the mistakes made by boys being boys. Children are inundated with advertising full of sexualised images of women - is it any wonder young boys grow up with a sense of entitlement to women's bodies? Yet, despite the clear evidence of the harm of gendered stereotyping, products are still developed and marketed at boys as heroes and inventors whilst girls remain pretty, pink princesses.

If we want to end rape culture and male violence against women and girls, we need to start by creating and supporting products which are not only gender neutral but also girl-positive. Toy companies don't want to degender products because it decreases their profit margins if parents are not convinced that pink trains will cause boys brains to explode (or whatever myth is being used today). We need to financially support online magazines like JumpMag which are creating safe, advertising free spaces for kids to learn, have fun and share their own work.

JumpMag has a kickstarter running this month. You can find it here.