Australia

No, Thomas the Tank Engine won't be banned under Melbourne council gender guidelines

Thomas the Tank Engine is still available at Victoria council libraries. Source: Supplied

Media reports that an Australian council would ban the popular book from its libraries are incorrect.

Victorian councils are not planning to remove any children's books from library shelves, rejecting media reports that some, including Thomas the Tank Engine, would be banned under new gender guidelines. 

Melbourne City Council has assured parents and children that they'll still be able to enjoy their favourite stories in the library, amid outrage over the claims.

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

Two years ago, the council commissioned the Australian National University to look into the development of gender roles, bias and stereotypes in preschool children. 

The research, published in March, suggested educators should avoid defining children according to gender or label certain activities for boys and others for girls. Instead, it's recommended activities be equally promoted to all children.

"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,” the authors of the study wrote. 

It warns about the impacts of girls playing with "hyper-feminised" toys such as Barbie and Bratz dolls but makes no mention of banning books.

'Boys should be boys'

The council was forced to clarify its position after a report in the Herald Sun suggesting books such as Thomas the Tank Engine and Winnie the Pooh could be removed from shelves sparked outrage on social media.

Many, including several male politicians, were quick to jump to the defence of Thomas and Winnie. 

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Opposition youth and families spokeswoman Georgie Crozier told the Herald Sun banning books was "crazy". 

“Boys should be boys and girls should be girls,” she said.

“Any funding should be focused on interventions to prevent family violence, and not radical gender-based theories.”

'Unconcious bias'

Deakin University sexuality and relationships expert Debbis Ollis said on Monday a review of gender content of childrens' books and toys was necessary to build inclusive behaviours in children.

"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," associate professor Ollis said. 

But, she said, it was not necessary to ban books.

“Teachers and parents report that students are quite capable of seeing practices that discriminate or restrict children because of gendered stereotypes.” 

A Melbourne City Council spokesman said the ANU research had informed a pilot project at a University of Melbourne children's centre and new resources were being developed to be used in other facilities. 

"We plan to make the tools and resources available to the community to actively promote the rights of all children to have safe, equal and respectful relationships."

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