Advocates for gender-neutral toys are celebrating a fresh victory: discount retailing giant Target has announced that it is removing gender labels from its toy department as well as other non-clothing departments.
In a statement posted to its website Aug. 7, Target said that customers had pointed out that “in some departments like Toys, Home or Entertainment, suggesting products by gender is unnecessary. We heard you, and we agree.”
The retailer said it’s working to spot areas of the store where gender-based signs can be removed “to help strike a better balance,” including sections selling toys and bedding. In the toy department, Target will also remove pink, blue, yellow, or green paper that line the walls behind the shelves.
Target’s announcement comes a couple of months after a customer’s photo of a Target toy aisle sign went viral. The photo showed a sign labeled “Building Sets” and, just below it, “Girls’ Building Sets.” The Twitter user who initially posted the photo, Abi Bechtel, included a simple, but effective, message with her picture: “Don’t do this, @Target.”
It’s too bad that Target apparently couldn’t come to the conclusion that labeling toys by gender was a bad idea without first being shamed on the Internet, but the retailer does deserve a pat on the back for ultimately taking action. (And Bechtel, of Ohio, deserves many, many pats on the back!)
As a mom with two boys whose toy collection includes a play kitchen and the occasional flying fairy, I’m among the many who think the Target news is great. I never want my sons to feel as though they shouldn’t play with dolls and My Little Pony figures just because they were sold in the “girls” section of a store. If I had daughters, I would never want them to shy away from trucks, trains, or building blocks just because they were sold in the “boys” section of a store. Toys help kids imagine and learn, whether it’s by nurturing a doll the way they might someday nurture their own children, or by piecing together a Lego building and gaining a foundation for a future engineering career. Depriving them of such learning experiences just to adhere to antiquated stereotypes just doesn’t make sense.
Other retailers seem to agree. When I covered the issue of the toy gender divide in 2013, Toys R Us provided a statement confirming that its stores have no gender-specific sections and added that, in advertising, it shows both boys and girls playing with all different types of toys.
“We understand that children have many diverse interests, and continually strive to portray that in our aisles and in our marketing materials,” a spokeswoman told me at the time.
But the reason that Target’s announcement is making headlines is that not all toy and entertainment retailers are towing the gender-neutral line. I noticed this firsthand earlier this summer when I went shopping for party favors ahead of my older son’s birthday party. To my dismay, at a Party City store, I found signs for a “boys” birthday party section and a “girls” party section. The former had superhero-themed gear, the latter had princesses.
In a statement to me sent after the Target announcement, Party City said it has no plans to change how it identifies its party favors. That’s really too bad, because girls can soar as superheroes and boys have every right to be treated like royalty.
Note to self: Check out the party favor options at Target.More On