No, Mr. Potato Head isn’t going “gender neutral”
Thursday’s moral panic stemmed from a poorly worded AP report and ended with conservatives punching trans people again
Another week, another viral thread panicking over another issue related to trans people. It’s become a sick pastime for some of Twitter’s most annoying assholes to flip their shit over some gender-related bullshit they’ve invented on their own.
This time, it was Mr. Potato Head, a literal plastic spud toy that’s been around for decades. An Associated Press wire story Thursday kicked off the ridiculousness, misleadingly claiming that Mr. Potato Head would be going “gender neutral” and be known going forward simply as “Potato Head.”
Of course, this was too much for many on the right and those in the center who profit off of criticizing the left. Thousands of tweets went out complaining that Hasbro was “neutering” a beloved toy, implying that trans people were ruining yet another cultural symbol on the altar of gender-neutrality.
The problem was that Mr. Potato Head isn’t going anywhere and isn’t being changed. According to the original Hasbro press release about the name change, it was the product line, which consists of both Mr. and Mrs. Potato Head, that was getting a rebrand. So Mr. Potato Head still theoretically has a dick, although I think it’s very weird that allegedly serious political thinkers spend time thinking about the potential genital shape of an inanimate plastic potato toy.
But don’t worry, Mr. Potato Head is keep his metaphorical tater dick.
The name change makes logical sense. If Mr. and Mrs. Potato Head are a family, they wouldn’t be the Mr. Potato Head family, they’d be the Potato Heads. But don’t let that get in the way of a hardy culture war circle jerk. And good lord did people lose their minds over it.
Conservative commentary website The Federalist even took it one step further, tying the Potato Head news to the Equality Act, an LGBTQ civil rights bill that passed the House Thursday. “The Equality Act would ‘Potato Head’ all Americans,” read the Federalist headline.
“What these Democrats and other left-wing talking heads fail to point out and don’t want you to notice, however, is that there’s a direct correlation between the Mr. Potato Head name-change and the goals of the Equality Act,” wrote Federalist writer Kylee Zempel. “Whacking the ‘Mr.’ from the potato was motivated by the same impulses that drove progressive lawmakers to draft the Equality Act: Both seek to eradicate gender distinctions, however varying the degrees. Instead of doing anything in the way of making things more equal, the pernicious Equality Act, like the Hasbro decision, would effectively ‘Potato Head’ all Americans.”
This argument makes no logical sense to me as a trans person and is inconsistent with a host of other anti-trans arguments. For years now, I’ve been told by anti-trans activists that my existence as a trans woman upholds gender stereotypes, like the idea that only women should wear dresses or only men should be leaders. It’s hogwash of course, and part of a greater agenda to make “trans people bad” headlines in opinion columns.
But trans people are also accused of trying to “eradicate gender differences,” as Zempel claims. But how could I both be reinforcing gender and also eradicating it? And what business of yours is my gender and why do you get a say in it at all?
Anti-trans activists consistently vacillate between contradicting talking points because their agenda isn’t to make any sense, it’s to get the public to question, and eventually, hate trans people. And the Potato Head drama is a perfect example of how the propaganda campaign works.
A few weeks ago, I showed how an initial false report about a British hospital allegedly banning the word “breastfeeding” and other gendered terms for maternal care turned into an international outrage campaign. After pointing this out, a bunch of Twitter commentators falsely tried to explain to me that the hospital backtracked, even as I linked to the original hospital statement explaining that “breastfeeding” would still be used for cis women who wanted to use it.
We see this cultural propaganda two step again in Zempel’s Federalist piece, which claims that Hasbro eventually backtracked after the internet backlash. Nothing could be further from the truth. Images of the updated packaging for the toy were already on the web, clearly showing the pretend spuds marked as “Mr.” and “Mrs.” Potato Head under a broader Potato Head label.
At some point, we as a society must grapple with our impulse to kneejerk panic over every little invented trans-related outrage. There’s something in the back of the brains of everyday people that gets very angry over even a hint of trans-related drama. I’ve written several of these trans-outrage debunkings now, maybe we could stop, take a breath and take a closer look before firing off your tweet.