From Toys to Toilets

As reported here over the weekend, Target has announced that it will remove signage and other culturally enforced color designations in its stores over the next several weeks, presumably in time for a holiday shopping season that will see Lego Friends and Elves moved to the building set aisle where they should have been all along, along with other broad categories consolidated – robot animals, whether with pink bows or vicious teeth – aisle 25.[1]

It should surprise no one that I think this is awesome news and at the core of where change should be made – with the people who make the marketing and manufacturing decisions to divide toys and related media into two highly gender-delineated silos and therefore increase the overall volume of purchases. Regardless of whether a particular child conforms to any and all gender norms which our culture ties to their biology and visible physical characteristics, it is ultimately good for all kids to be exposed to more (or less) of everything. No matter where the toys are in the store, my kids go for what they like. But my kids have the privilege of largely conforming to the norms for their perceived gender. For kids who don’t conform, this sort of thing is huge. If all the animal toys or all of the cars or all of the building sets are in the same place, regardless of the presence of dark colors and guns or rainbows and lollypops, then it is going to be marginally easier for kids who like all of these things to enjoy them.

But there are always those people who disagree, vehemently, with the “agenda” behind letting kids be kids, because “boys are boys and girls are girls” and never the twain shall meet (at least until they are sneaking out behind our back to practice unsafe sex because they’ve only been exposed to abstinence only education). These people see Target’s announcement not as one step toward something greater, but as a slippery slope akin to a sledding hill at 7 am after a big snowfall with nowhere to go but down.

Some people are worried about what will happen if Target decides to take this step (which they are not yet) of throwing all of the clothes together in one big scrum. Because otherwise, some poor little boy might end up wearing a dress with rainbow kitties or something. However, an interesting thought has occurred to me as part of this summer’s bizarre sudden awareness of the fact that office air conditioning is far too cold for the average woman. Evidently there is a scientific reason why the default temperature feels arctic to me, but given that at least in the DC area, men are mostly wearing long pants and button down shirts (if not a full on suit), whereas I’m hanging here in a short-sleeved dress, bare legs and sandals, there seems to be a pretty sartorial reason why men want the office colder than women – they are wearing more clothes.

What does this have to do with Target, you ask? Well, I’ll tell you – if men could wear skirts and peep toe sandals as part of their business casual wardrobe, I bet those office temps would eek up from 70 degrees.

But far and away my favorite objection, is the bizarrely slippery slope from what should be a relatively innocuous change to the toy aisle to cats and dogs living together men and women peeing together.

To which I say, “really?” How exactly does one get from being able to purchase a 12-inch Captain America doll and a 12-inch Elsa doll in the same toy aisle without being told that one is “for boys” and one is “for girls” to non-gender specific bathrooms? Talk about a stretch.

Gender Neutral Bathroom

But even aside from that, why are we so obsessed with bathrooms and what is hiding inside someone’s underwear in the first place?

Personally, I do want gender neutral bathrooms. I support movements to permit people to use the restroom that they identify with and are presenting as at the time (because, really, in a stall, no one knows what you’re peeing through). I thought #Occupotty was brilliant. So, I’m not really afraid of what is at the bottom of this particular slippery slope. Bring me a sled.[2]

If this makes me the proverbial hairy legged bra burning feminist that we like to say isn’t really indicative of feminism all the time, except modified for the anti-pigeonholing kids crowd, then so be it. Anything that helps kids discover who they are free from learned stereotypes of what they are supposed to be is a good thing in my book. So bring on the end of the color coordinated childhood, one retailer and one media creator and one toymaker at a time.

[1] May not be actual toy aisle in any Target store ever.

[2] And cisgender parents and grandparents who need something to benefit you before you care about it – bonus! Gender neutral bathrooms help caregivers too, since no one is going to side eye a mom with a male presenting kid who seems “too old” for the ladies room in a room where you are both welcome.

Featured image courtesy of flickr user Mike Mozart.

Emily Sexton

Writer of incomplete novels, entertainment lawyer, mom of two with a wide age spread, blogger here and elsewhere, wannabe vocalist and v/o actress, atheist, weirdo. That last bit went without saying. Find Em on twitter @emandink and maybe she'll use it more.

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  1. Great article. . .some things you made me think of as I was reading:

    I hold on to the hope that the Target change will encourage toy companies to be a little less gendered in their packaging. The pink toy aisle will still be a sea of pink because all the boxes of dress up clothes, tiaras, and dolls are so pink. Or. . .your idea of grouping like items together. That would be awesome.

    I also don’t get why it’s so hard to find inexpensive cool toys in the “girls” aisle. There were Hot Wheels for $1, and their generic wooden trains for $3, but the closest pink aisle equivalent was the Doc McStuffins mystery toy, which is tiny and non movable. Maybe grouping like stuff together will make that more obvious and change it.

    I’m completely ok with this moving to more gender accepting bathrooms. I have two boys who are going to be/are slow to potty train, so I expect to be accompanying them to the bathroom longer than is socially acceptable to help with that pottying process. People seem to start side-eyeing little boys around 5 (and the gym on base has posted that opposite gendered children cannot accompany an adult into same gender bathrooms after/at age 6).

    I’m not sure wtf people are afraid these young children are going to do. I’ve asked around, and been told that it might scar the girls, and the boys might be a disruption. . .which unrolls a whole other set of BS gendered stereotyping. All of which works together in the end to make life unnecessarily harder for parents and children.

    1. I really do hope that this is the first domino. Target was one of the last mass retailer holdouts (an irony that has become clear as people threaten to boycott Target in favor of WalMart on Target’s Facebook page, only to have it pointed out that WalMart made this move ages ago).

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