IN September this year a gender reveal party caused carnage as a pyrotechnic device designed to emit pink or blue smoke went awry, starting the blaze in California.

The Creek Fire burned through more than 73,000 acres of the Sierra National Forest as 200 people trapped by the flames, some injured, were rescued by helicopter.

It wasn't the first time a gender reveal celebration turned to chaos - another in 2019 ended in the death of one of the grandmothers-to-be; in 2017 a 43,000 acre wildfire was sparked in Arizona.

There are many ludicrously hyperbolic milestone celebrations foisted on us by the modern era but gender reveals are really the icing on the party cake.

Expectant parents will surprise family and friends with what type of baby they're having by unveiling something pink for a girl or blue for a boy. A particularly grotesque example came in September this year when a couple had the Burj Khalifa building in Dubai turned blue to announce to as many people as possible that the child they are expecting has a penis.

Because that's what these are, really. And I wonder if we were more blunt about them, would they be as appealing.

A sonogram doesn't tell you the gender of a baby, it tells you their sex. So in essence, these weird and not particularly wonderful parties are actually sex reveal parties. You're inviting folk round for a knees up to celebrate your child's genitals, and all the associated pink and blue stereotypes that go alongside.

The issue shows the amount of work that needs to be done around the harm caused by gender cliches. On one hand, we're having sophisticated public debates about the essence of gender, what typical gender attributes mean to an individual's sense of self, and how gender intersects with sex.

On the other hand - whooh, yay, we're having a little pink princess! We're having a brave, blue boy!

Pink and blue tropes still colour children's toys. Equality organisation the Fawcett Society set up an 18 month commission into the effects of gender stereotyping in early childhood, looking at the harm it causes and the interactions with race and class.

Its recommendations for actions fall into three sections: parents, education and commerce, and highlights how the UK toy industry is still perpetuating lazy stereotypes.

For anyone who has shopped for children's gifts, this will come as no surprise. There are still gendered divides for every product imaginable. Even searching for the most popular toys in 2020 for gift ideas for my godson and nephew, the results all split into "for girls" and "for boys".

And, guiltily, I tend to click on the "for boys" ones, as well as going for stereotypically "boys" books with dark coloured covers and male protagonists. Even alert to all the issues around gender stereotyping, it feels easier to pick something they're more likely to enjoy rather than risking disappointment.

Which is a bit useless, in a feminist activist sense.

The annual lamentations about dolls for girls and action figures for boys; unicorns vs dinosaurs; Little Princess and Little Hero clothing lines have played out over years now.

We know that gender stereotypes limit boys and girls. Girls are discouraged from STEM subjects and manual jobs; boys are diverted from nursing, childcare and typically "women's" jobs. This all feeds in to the gender pay gap and the hugely unequal burden faced by working women who are left with the bulk of housework and childcare too.

Both groups are emotionally restricted to the detriment of their mental health. Children who reject any neat binary feel like outsiders.

Toys matter because play is how children learn about the world and their place in it. If it they see their sex limited to only particular characteristics then they, too, are limited.

Figures from the market research firm the NPD Group show that, although manufacturers are working on making packaging more gender neutral, 86% of dolls sales go to a female recipient and 90% of toy vehicles to boys.

Is that because adults too often take the path of least resistance?

It's little wonder then that progress seems so slow, despite much more visible rejections of gender dualities from those in the public eye.

Woman's Hour last week had a segment on make up for men. Not drag queen-esque, hyper-stylised, theatrical make up for men. Just a bit of concealer, some foundation - basics to cover up perceived flaws that make the man feel uncomfortable.

It's not, said the chap who set up the business, something that men often think about but those who do buy the products often feel more confident and wish they'd tried it sooner.

So many children and young people would also feel better about themselves if they were encouraged to break out of their prescribed gender roles.

In France the government had the French Federation of Toy and Childcare Industries (FJP) and the association of toy manufacturers sign a pact to make toys gender neutral. We need a more focused effort here too, not just from business but from all adults involved in the lives of children - from Christmas presents to positive role modelling to banishing gender reveal parties.

Gender stereotypes are a straightjacket on everyone. There's something to burn to the ground.