Target will stop labeling toys for boys or for girls. Good.
Yes, your daughter can play with blocks, and your son can play with dolls.
by Rebecca Hains for the Washington Post
Target’s decision to eliminate “boys” and “girls” signs from its toys and bedding departments makes a bold statement: Gender stereotypes and gendered marketing are passé. Many parents have spent years calling for the desegregation of children’s products, and this decision from the second-largest discount retailer in the U.S. signals a real cultural shift.
The announcement has met both high praise and extreme outrage in the past week. For every progressive parent celebrating the demise of the pink and blue aisles, a conservative parent is furious that Target has taken the other side in this culture war. Their outrage seems to stem from a widespread misunderstanding of the concept of “gender neutral” in a marketing context.
For example, a recent statement from Franklin Graham, president and CEO of the Billy Graham Evangelistic Association, echoes many conservatives’ comments on Target’s Facebook page. Graham is calling for consumers to boycott. He called Target to complain about its decision, because, he says, “It’s not gender-neutral people out there” who led to Target’s success. Graham added, “Jesus said, ‘Have you not read that He who created them from the beginning made them male and female (Matthew 19:4). You can’t get any clearer than that.”
“Gender-neutral marketing” doesn’t signify an attempt to make males and females the same, however, or to ban traditionally gendered toys like Barbie and G.I. Joe, as some allege. Rather, as I have explained on “Fox and Friends” and in the Boston Globe Magazine, it simply means organizing products children already love according to interest or theme — not by boy or girl. It’s actually a throwback to a bygone era that many critics of the practice grew up with: Gender-based marketing only came into vogue in the 1990s, when companies realized they could convince parents of children of both sexes to buy twice as much stuff by introducing gender segmentation to kids’ products.
In fact, toys used to be sold to kids in broad categories and organized by type, not by who would use them, according to Elizabeth Sweet, a sociologist and lecturer at the University of California at Davis who has researched how the gendered marketing of children’s products has evolved since 1905. “So this move by Target is neither radical nor unprecedented,” Sweet says.
So, why this change, and why now? […]
Rebecca Hains, Ph.D. is a media studies professor at Salem State University and the author of The Princess Problem: Guiding Our Girls Through the Princess-Obsessed Years, a book meant to help parents raise empowered, media-literate daughters.