Martin: "Why did you think your mother made gingerbread men with their necks all crooked every year on our anniversary?"
Niles: "... we thought they were DANCING."

"Gingerbread figure" is a commonly used non-gender-based name for people-shaped cookies made of gingerbread. Retail stores and restaurants (such as Tim Hortons in Canada) have been identifying the cookies formerly known as gingerbread men this way since at least late 2005. A very mild controversy erupted that December after Edmonton Journal columnist Elizabeth Withey wrote about the name on her Journal-based blog, indicating that she believed it was the result of political correctness gone wrong:

"What is a gingerbread figure? Why not a gingerbread man, or woman, or child? Is it wrong to define human-shaped treats as people? I appreciate it's politically incorrect to define a shape with two legs as a man, a shape with a skirt as a woman and a shape that is little as a child because this is unfair to women who wear pants, men who wear skirts, children who are tall and adults who are short. But why not a gingerbread person? Or, heck, why not a gingerbread COOKIE? Why a figure?"


"Why should the ginger get all the credit? Why not MOLASSESbread? Or ginolassesbread? Or molasgerbread? Or to be truly politically correct to all humans and ingredients concerned: an edible- sweet-brown-spicy-baked-dessert- item-in-the-shape-of-a-human-which-may-be-a-man-woman-teen-child-gay-lesbian giant-midget-transsexual-transvestite-hermaphrodite-ghost-corpse-or-other? I guess that wouldn't fit on the Tim Hortons dessert tray label."

The posting earned Withey at least one irate e-mail from a reader who accused her of mocking anyone who was not a straight, white male. As she did not post comments publicly on the blog and this was the only comment she publicly responded to (in another posting), it is unknown exactly how many e-mails she received.

In her response, Withey claimed that she never intended to mock minorities and was merely pointing out that the easiest and least offensive answer was to call a spade a spade and refer to the baked treats as "gingerbread cookies." Furthermore, while Withey did not note this, other bloggers' posts suggest that Tim Hortons employees had been instructed to "correct" customers who ask for gingerbread "men."

Another blog (not connected with any newspaper) also mockingly made reference to the name in December 2005; the writer said that in order to satisfy those yearning for political correctness, cookie sellers ought to start selling gingerbread cookies shaped like people engaging in sexual intercourse.

While the story has not received much mainstream coverage, those who have blogged about it seem upset that political correctness has now extended to the snack food realm. Others say it's only right for both children and adults to be socialized to accept that gender-related terms shouldn't be applied with a cookie cutter.

Real cookies aside, the term has also found itself inserted into pop culture. A Google search for "gingerbread figures" brings up more than 4,000 hits, many of them fairy tales and recipes. Several retellings of Hansel and Gretel have been altered to include references to gingerbread figures rather than gingerbread men. Notably absent from any revision is The Gingerbread Man, most likely because the titular protagonist is explicitly stated to be male -- and the story's familiar refrain would not work well with the new term:

"Run, run, as fast as you can! / You can't catch me, I'm the Gingerbread Figure!"

And so the Gingerbread Man remains so named.

Withey's point about "gingerbread cookie" being a more suitable name brings up something I remember from the sixth grade. My French teacher had told us that "fireman" was not an acceptable term and that we should say "fireperson" (and "mailperson," and so on). When someone asked whether it was all right to use terms more specific to the job itself -- "firefighter," mail carrier," etc. -- she replied that those were every bit as sexist as "fireman" and "mailman." I never quite understood why; note that those concerned with the application of gender-specific terminology are not stressing out over "police officer" and I've never heard anyone say "policeperson."

Note also that the use of "gingerbread figure" in reference to cookies shaped like humans appears to be a relatively recent occurance, and that "gingerbread figure" is also applicable to gingerbread houses and any other shape made from gingerbread.

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