As you may have heard, Target recently decided to remove gender labels from their toy section
Somewhere in my parents basement is a box full of vhs tapes with hours of commercials from the 80’s. From micromachines to Barbie and the rockers. I painstakingly taped them all to do my 6th grade science fair on the topic of gender biasing in advertising. Even at 12 years old I got that there were entire sections of my mom’s sears catalog that were bright pink, or that the commercials for transformers only had boys in them and that the girls were all pictured with play kitchens. It pissed me off. For the record, I won a blue ribbon at the state science fair for this project (this needs to be said because being unathletic and horrible at math my parents didn’t see many blue ribbons from me growing up).
As a mom now who has a major addiction to Target (seriously a line in the household budget simply named “target” ) I am thrilled to see that they get it. They get that some little girls don’t want to play with a kitchen and have zero interest in trying to pry clothes onto barbie. They get that my little boy might actually love the color pink and want an Elsa doll to play fight his sister's E.T. stuffed animal.
Because toys are toys and shouldn’t be classified as for girls or boys.
Retailers like Amazon, Toys R Us, Walmart, and even hip and cool Etsy have made it impossible to sell superhero capes online and not to stereotype the pink cape as girl or blue cape as boy. We cringe every time we’re forced to pick a gender category that is “boy” or “girl”. It hits especially close to home since we have a little girl that loves stuff categorized as “boy” stuff (legos, action figures, star wars, underwear with Teenage mutant ninja turtles on them). For the first time this year she got called a tomboy at school. Sticks and stones right? Try telling that to the sweet little girl in tears because the robot crowd (all boys) stopped playing with her - all because another little girl pointed out they were playing with a “girl”. Penny doesn’t wear pink. She wears boy’s underwear (because it has TMNT on them and the “girl” underwear has princesses). Penny doesn’t want to play “frozen”. She wants to play “robots” and doesn’t care if it’s boys playing or girls playing.
As a society (through marketing) we teach our kids there are things to play with if you are a girl or a boy. If you like the other gender’s things it’s still “weird”. So, I don’t blame the little girl. Someone much older than her has pointed this out consciously and subconsciously.
Because here is what I found in my 6th grade science fair project. The marketing is what gives children these ideas. This is not something that comes from kids. Along with my hours of VHS tapes of commercials and my 100 pages of clippings from my moms Sears catalog* I did a study with kids. I went to preschool classrooms and I watched kids play. There were all kinds of toys in the room and you better believe that the little kids played with everything. They were too young to have picked up the marketer’s message. Boys went straight for the play kitchen. Girls played with the trucks and blocks. Boys pushed baby dolls around in strollers and girls picked up the balls and threw them back and forth.
So as for our little superhero cape company, we think boys should be able to wear princess hot pink glitter capes and we think our little girl should be able to wear whatever clothes she wants without having it affect who she gets to play with on the playground. Here’s to hoping that more retailers wake up to some of the gender bias we impose on kids. Maybe then we’ll be able to stop explaining why the only underwear with TMNT have holes in the front of them that our little girl thinks are pockets.
*In case you’re wondering - I totally got in trouble for cutting up that catalog - if you are as old as I am you will understand the sacredness of a Sears catalog