Cardiff professor defends ‘Gender Berry’ muffin challenge

A Cardiff University professor has defended an activity involving different-flavoured muffins, designed to raise awareness of gender diversity in schools, which has come under fire from other academics.

Emma Renold, a professor of childhood studies at the university, created the “Mixed Muffin Gender Berry Challenge” as part of The Rotifer Project, which has been published in Agenda, a free online toolkit for young people.

The Rotifer Project in the toolkit involves a series of activities that encourage young people to think about the different gender identities.

The challenge involved the use of blueberry muffins, to represent the stereotype of masculinity; raspberry muffins, used as the stereotype of femininity; and mixed muffins, to encompass gender fluidity.

Participants were then told to stand by blue and pink balloons around the room in accordance with the coloured berries in their muffin.

However, there were no balloons to represent gender fluidity, meaning participants with mixed muffins did not have a place in the room to go to.

The Mixed Muffin Gender Berry Challenge. (Agenda)

“This got us all talking about how we come into the world already coded through gender labels; how you can’t assume someone’s gender by how they look; what it feels like to be given a gender you might not choose; and not to have your gender represented at all,” the guide reads.

Renold’s guide has been criticised by academics like Kathleen Stock, a lecturer at the University of Sussex, who told The Times that the “confused and contradictory” activity “read a bit like satire.”

“The materials are troubling because they effectively encourage young people, and particularly gender non-conforming girls and young lesbians, to conclude that their distressing feelings aren’t just a sign that the world is sexist, but rather a sign that they themselves need fixing,” Stock told the national paper.

Stock recently came under fire from transgender activists after suggesting in an interview that “trans women are still males with male genitalia” and calling for trans women to be excluded from certain women-only spaces.

However, Renold disputed these criticisms, telling PinkNews they only show a “selective reading of a facilitated youth-led activity in a larger session that used creative methods to explore sex and gender diversity across the human and more than human world, and across time, space and place.

“The Gender Berry Muffin activity needs to be situated within the whole session and understood within the context of how creative pedagogy in this context is used to explore the impact of gender norms and gender binaries.

Renold continued: “Its aim was to critically explore, through easily identifiable cultural gender stereotypes – such as pink and blue – how many societies and cultures represent, categorise and commodify gender identities, expressions and behaviours in binary ways.”

University of Sussex professor Kathleen Stock criticised the challenge. (Docstockk/Twitter)

Renold argued that the case study uses “creative methods to understand not reinforce the role of social and cultural gender stereotypes, including but not limited to identity.”

The academic said that the wider aim of the activity was “to both understand and open up a discussion of how teachers and students can work together to create safe and inclusive environments,” which includes “understanding and challenging the harmful impact of gender stereotypes in schools.”

The professor added: “The aim and content of The Rotifer Project is clearly founded upon understanding and challenging the impact of gender norms and stereotypes – in this case across the social, cultural and natural world. Like all the case studies it has equality, diversity, rights and social justice at its heart.”

The Agenda toolkit provides young people with guidance on a range of topics, including gender, relationships, activism, homophobia, and biphobia.

It was also developed by Welsh Women’s Aid, NSPCC, the Children’s Commissioner for Wales, and the Welsh government.