Target Is Reevaluating Its Gendered Signage, And It's A Big Deal
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Politics and Activism

Target Is Reevaluating Its Gendered Signage, And It's A Big Deal

Target Is Reevaluating Its Gendered Signage, And It's A Big Deal

I remember being at a toy store as a kid and having to go to the Boys section to buy a Spiderman costume, because the Girls costume section comprised of Snow White, Minnie Mouse, and the like. I remember going toy shopping and having to go to the Boys section (a.k.a the non-pink section) to buy Lego models. My Lion King sheets also came from the Boys section.

This isn’t to say I was a “tomboy”—pink was my favorite color, and I loved playing with Barbie dolls. But the assumed mutual exclusivity of Barbie dolls and Lego models convinced me that I was, in fact, more of a tomboy, when I was really just a kid. Not even a kid with particularly diverse interests. I was a regular kid who, like most kids, was interested in the world.

So many aspects of daily life are categorized by gender, and we can discuss indefinitely about which of those categorizations are necessary and/or convenient. Toys, however, aren’t that difficult to talk about. A circle has no beginning or end and, as such, it’s difficult to identify whether we gendered toys or whether toys gendered us, especially given how this debate plays out in various cultures and regions of the world. But that’s also not as pertinent of a question as whether or not we should continue to gender toys. We shouldn't. And here's why.

I went to a college where computer science is increasingly becoming the most popular major. I personally went through a long phase of willing myself to commit to computer science, in large part because the introductory classes were wonderful. I eventually pivoted to a different major because computer science really wasn’t for me, but a year’s worth of doubt and anxiety regarding whether or not I should “quit” computer science had me doubting my abilities on a pretty regular basis.

I don’t think I ever said or thought outright that I might be quitting because girls aren’t computer savvy, but I remember being viscerally aware of being outnumbered by boys in several of the core classes for the computer science major, and wondering if it was really for me based on this fact. This isn’t to say that mine is the narrative of every girl who has ever doubted her abilities as a STEM major, but the truth is that I might have been a lot less likely to attribute my lack of interest in computer science to a deficit in ability if I had grown up thinking that I was just as privy to the construction or tech savvy toys in the Boys section as I was to the dolls in the Girls section.

In a similar vein, I think back to my Barbie dolls, whose professions ranged from teachers to nurses, traditionally “female” professions, and I wonder how many young boys could have been wonderful in these positions but were deterred at an early age because they were never raised with action figures of male (or female) nurses. Indeed, we see the trajectory of this particular profession through its incorporation as the butt of gendered jokes in popular media (Meet the Parents is a notable example), the rise of the slutty nurse as a Halloween costume, and other broad generalizations that not only severely gender the position, but also belittle the abilities of an incredibly skilled and demanding profession.

So when Target released this announcement to “phase out gender-based signage”, I was elated. If you scroll down to the comments section, you’ll read a variety of responses ranging from how this is a pretty unnecessary initiative to the fact that this initiative does little to stop toy manufacturers from gendering their toys.

To the former comment, I say that we are more conditioned than we like to think we are by the world around us, as are our children. Target’s announcement addresses the need to categorize items in a department store, but gender-based categorizations can be pretty damn irrelevant. Don’t believe me? Buzzfeed compiled this great piece about the following “unisex washing machine” released in India earlier this year.

No, the advertisement was not satire. Hopefully, we will bestow the same sense of incredulous ridicule on gendered toys in the not-too-distant future.

To the latter point about how there’s still a long way to go, and how Target’s renewed categorization doesn’t account for how manufacturers design and market products, I say this: Think of all the birthday parties, bar and bat mitzvahs, Christmas celebrations, and baby showers, to name a few, for which people shop in the toy section of a store. Even before reading the labels on products, customers are drawn by colors (pink versus blue), and signage. It would be naïve to think that we can overcome generations’ worth of unnecessarily gendered conditioning, of both parents and children, in one big sweep, but if Target’s new initiative results in one more kid being encouraged to explore avenues outside or regardless of their perceived gender, I’ll take it. Because, really, what does this sign even mean:

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This article has not been reviewed by Odyssey HQ and solely reflects the ideas and opinions of the creator.
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