Target's New Take On Toys

Monday, August 10, 2015

Yesterday I saw an article stating that Target is planning to phase out gender-based signage in their toy, home, and electronics department.

I was ecstatic.

What could be bad about this? It will help children no longer feel like they can only play with certain toys based on whatever is between their legs. I couldn't see how anyone could find this to be a bad thing. I went to read the comments, expecting a lot of people to be thrilled. But, being the USA, where no matter what it is, somebody will be offended by it, there were almost exclusively (at the time of writing this, anyway) negative comments and people claiming they will no longer shop at Target.

A few excerpts:

" Boys and girls are different and have different rolls, that is why there is boy and girl. Why fight against nature?"

"People...that think girls being girls and boys being boys is a bad thing and we should be gender neutral on everything...yeah those people...what is wrong with them and can we stop them from breeding"

"Another reason not to shop at Target. Stopped when they took out fishing. Their liberal beliefs are okay, but if a Christian doesn't want to make a gay wedding cake it's wrong." (side note: how is this even relevant?)

"Girls are Girls and Boys are Boys why NOT separate the two? They ARE different!!!! What are you trying to do with the children of America??? What kind of idiots are you people???" (he then goes on to say that it's okay for girls to play with "boy" toys -- no mention of boys playing with "girl" toys -- but that it makes it more difficult for shoppers. You know, because only being concerned with ease of shopping totally sounds like his m.o. after calling people idiots and accusing them of plotting nefarious things in regards to the children)

As a woman, an early childhood professional, hell, even as a PERSON, this makes no sense to me. Why is it so hard for people to understand that yes, while there are differences between boys and girls, that children are CHILDREN, and that gender roles and preferences are learned? Why is it so hard for people to believe that girls and boys may not think of toys as anything but toys until we teach them differently?

I know many people who think it's wrong for little boys to play with dolls. I wonder if they realize that by playing with dolls as children, boys can grow to become better fathers because they understand the importance of caring for a baby and learn that it's okay for fathers to be involved. Not to mention all the skills that can be learned, like dressing (fastening, zipping, buttoning, etc.) and language skills (naming body parts, discussing the emotions from the pretend scenario, etc.), just to name a couple.

photo from The Huffington Post
Many little girls love trucks and trains. When I first started nannying for Little J and Baby Z, Little J was OBSESSED with construction vehicles (something young Alex could related to, because when I was in preschool, I wanted to drive a polka-dotted cement mixer when I grew up). Over time, I've seen her become more and more concerned with "girl toys" and "boy toys"; I'm guessing she's picked up on it from TV or her classmates or something, because her parents don't push that, and I did everything I could to convince her otherwise. We had a discussion one day about the fact that she could do any job she wanted when she grew up. I told her that being a girl didn't mean she couldn't have any job she wanted, and she looked at me sadly and said, "Yes it does." A FIVE-YEAR-OLD SAID THAT. I wanted to cry. 

Strangely enough, on the last day as their nanny, I took the kids to Target and let them pick out a toy. Little J had picked a Cinderella diary set from the dollar spot, but while we were in the toy section, she suddenly decided she wanted "to get a boy toy". Unfortunately, most of the toys she wanted (a giant dump truck, a pirate ship playset, a volcano with some dinosaurs) were out of our price range, but she was also interested in Hot Wheels. She almost picked some out, but she decided to "save those for next time" (this was a recurring theme of the day -- she kept seeing things she wanted to get at a later date and trying to hide them so they'd still be there); even though she still kept the Cinderella diary (which is awesome -- I am all about Disney princesses!), I was glad that she branched out and wanted some toys that she wouldn't normally choose.

It's not just about children wanting "boy" or "girl" toys though -- girls are often underrepresented with major franchises. I had been planning a blog post about this for a few months, actually, but this ended up being the perfect time to discuss it. Little J and Baby Z LOVE Paw Patrol (and let's be real -- I do too). They have toys, dishes, bedding, clothes -- Little J even picked out a Paw Patrol backpack and lunchbox for kindergarten! There are seven pups in the Paw Patrol; five are boys (Chase, Marshall, Rubble, Rocky, and Zuma) and two are girls (Skye and Everest). Everest isn't often featured in merchandise, as she didn't join until the second season. Often when they have merchandise, like shirts or lunch boxes or something, they only use two or three of the pups, because there are so many of them. Totally fine.

the Paw Patrol lunchbox Little J picked out (pink, of course, since companies seem to think that all girls like pink, but it does have girls AND boys on it!)

But when Baby Z got a Paw Patrol body pillow, I noticed something strange: it featured all five boys and none of the girls. Again, the lack of Everest was to be expected (she IS on Little J's lunchbox though, along with Skye and Marshall), but I was shocked that they didn't use Skye. What's one more pup? It seemed to me like they were trying to make it seem like Paw Patrol was a boy thing, which totally isn't true. I know little boys whose favorite pup is Everest (she is pretty cool); Baby Z would LOVE to have an Everest toy (Chase is probably is favorite though).

Then there was the Avengers scandal where all the male Avengers were featured in a toy set, but Black Widow wasn't; this spawned the #wheresnatasha hashtag (she ended up being left out of quite a bit of the merchandising). When female superheroes are already a rarity, leaving out one of the few women who we can see kick some serious tuchus makes it seem like girls just don't matter as much; despite the fact that most Marvel fans are probably men, there are SO many female Marvel fans. Little boys who idolize Captain America can find a ton of merch to show their love; not so with little girls who love Black Widow (I'm not going to get into whether or not it's appropriate for little kids to be watching these movies; the fact is that they do, and that's what's relevant).

I was working in the Walmart toy department when Lego Friends came out; I was livid that they were in a separate aisle. Just because it's aimed at girls means it shouldn't be with the other Legos? Girls love Legos too! Even as an adult, I LOVE Legos. I find the idea that girls only want to play with pink and purple Legos that come with figures with stylish clothes and cool hair offensive. And who knows, maybe a boy may want to get the Lego Elves Sky Castle, but feels weird picking it out because it's in the pink "girl" aisle.

Why can't we just let toys be toys and let kids be kids? As a child, I loved Barbies, but I also had a G.I. Joe and Spider-Man action figures. I don't feel like playing with "boy" toys decreased my femininity or made me think I was a boy or whatever nonsense these people are spewing. I just liked playing with toys.

When we have kids, they can play with whatever they want to. We've been collecting all sorts of toys for our future kids, and they'll have them all available to play with, regardless of sex.

I want my kids to like what they like and not have to feel ashamed. I don't think that's a bad thing.

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