If you’ve ever been to Target, you’ve probably noticed that their toys, among many other products, are divided into girls’ and boys’ sections.
The “Girl” toy aisle is not only glaringly pink, but remarkably void of most toys that promote math and science, while being heavy on gendered toys such as baby dolls, princess costumes, kitchen appliances, and pretend household cleaning products.
The “Boy” toy aisle features shades of mostly black and blue, and is filled with warriors, weapons, architecture inspiration, and science experiments.
Why is this problematic? Isn’t it true that boys like “boy toys” and girls like “girl toys”? What’s wrong with segregating them?
Many people think of gender roles as natural and biological, but when we examine gender norms throughout various cultures, it is clear that these roles are constructed by arbitrary societal rules.
Research has shown that children regulate and change their behavior based on what is expected of their gender, rather than making choices based on their true preferences. It may seem innocuous in terms of toys, but forced gender roles can lead to girls thinking they need to “play dumb” to get attention, and boys believing they need to be emotionless and tough in order to be “real men.” This is among numerous other problems caused in part by forced gender roles, including eating disorders, low emotional intelligence, and toxic masculinity.
In terms of toys, hyper-masculine toys limit boys by encouraging aggression while failing to support boys who may be interested in playing house and practicing their nurturing side. The lack of math and science toys for girls is a startling reality observed in statistics that show girls and boys both approach math and science with the same level of skill and confidence — until a certain age, when girls begin to inherently believe that they are bad at these subjects.
The good news is that Target has announced their plan to remove their gendered toy signage. In a recent announcement, Target explained, “Over the past year, guests have raised important questions about a handful of signs in our stores that offer product suggestions based on gender. In some cases, like apparel, where there are fit and sizing differences, it makes sense. In others, it may not… We know that shopping preferences and needs change and, as guests have pointed out, in some departments like Toys, Home or Entertainment, suggesting products by gender is unnecessary.
We heard you, and we agree. Right now, our teams are working across the store to identify areas where we can phase out gender-based signage to help strike a better balance.”
In conjunction with their new breastfeeding policy, Target is really showing their ability to listen to their customers’ needs and make appropriate changes. The importance of creating an environment that allows children to pursue their true interests, rather than engaging in gendered play determined by arbitrary societal beliefs, cannot be overstated. In integrating children’s toys and allowing kids to pick and choose what they are naturally drawn to, we open up the doors to their future, giving children the freedom to be who they want to be and pursue their dreams. Way to go, Target!