Australia Isn’t Banning Children’s Books Because Of Melbourne Council Gender Guidelines

'Thomas the Tank Engine' and 'Winnie the Pooh' will remain on bookshelves.

Australia, Melbourne, gender guidelines, banning children's books such as Thomas the Tank Engine
ESB Professional / Shutterstock

'Thomas the Tank Engine' and 'Winnie the Pooh' will remain on bookshelves.

Recently, in Australia, people were getting upset over reports that some children’s books would be banned on account of a Melbourne council’s gender guidelines.

Immediately, people took to social media to voice their displeasure at having books banned for no other reason than gender bias. Some people even used Australia’s recent successful yes vote in regard to gay marriage as a reason why these books were being banned. Reportedly, this came about due to some groups insisting that the gender bias was actually a call for banning all instances of word usages such as “boy” and “girl.”

The original confusion seemed to stem from an article by the Herald Sun that was a premium article, meaning people had to be subscribed to the paper in order to view it. This meant that people had to rely on those who could access the article to interpret the original study quoted. And, given the title was, “Thomas The Tank Engine Could Be Banned Under The New Guidelines,” many people jumped to conclusions.

So, what is really going on here?

According to SBS, in Australia, Victorian councils are not planning to ban books such as Thomas the Tank Engine and Winnie the Pooh.

“Our libraries aim to promote diversity, not censor books,” a council spokesperson said. “None of the books mentioned in media reports have been banned. The books mentioned are in stock at City Library.”

Australia, Melbourne, gender guidelines, banning children's books such as Thomas the Tank Engine
  Gemma Longman/resized /CC BY 2.0 / Wikipedia Commons

Instead, what really happened was the results of a study conducted by the Australian National University looking into the development of gender roles, bias, and stereotypes in preschool children were released in March and people are only now looking at the implications. As SBS points out, according to the study, “educators should avoid defining children according to gender or label certain activities for boys and others for girls.” This is likely where the confusion has originally stemmed from as people react to how this should be interpreted.

The study also goes on to insist that children should be encouraged to participate in all forms of play and not curb it to gender-specific play. What this means is that educators should shy away from — to use gender-biased examples — only encouraging boys to play with cars and girls to play with dolls. Instead, children should be encouraged to play with whatever items they feel like, regardless of their gender.

The authors of the study elaborated further.

“If girls avoid playing with toys such as Lego, they may miss opportunities to develop special and mechanical reasoning skills that are necessary for careers and courses in science, technology, engineering, and ­ mathematics.”

At no point in the study was the mention of banning books made. However, a discussion was had in regard to how gender bias can occur in children’s books.

“We all suffer from unconscious gender bias and this sort of critical practice enables students and teachers to see the sexist nature of some books and the implication of the messages children are getting about who they can be,” Deakin University sexuality and relationships expert Debbie Ollis said earlier in the week in regard to this topic.

So, for those who are concerned that their favorite childhood books are about to be banned in Australia, you can step back now and relax knowing those books will still be on the shelves for generations to enjoy. However, perhaps take a moment to evaluate how books such as Thomas the Tank Engine and Winnie the Pooh could help to create gender bias before you read them to your children next. Alternatively, have a discussion with your children about this subject after reading these sorts of books.