Moving Away from Gender-based Signs
The USA’s second biggest discount retailer, Target, announced on 7 August that it was doing away with gender-based signs in store. Phasing out where inappropriate and where needs had changed is more the case, as the corporate press release says:
“…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. For example, in the kids’ Bedding area, signs will no longer feature suggestions for boys or girls, just kids. In the Toys aisles, we’ll also remove reference to gender, including the use of pink, blue, yellow or green paper on the back walls of our shelves.”
Historic criticism of Target’s gendered products
A tweet by Abi Bechtel, 2 months ago showing a Target store with separate signage for “Building Sets” and “Girls’ Building Sets” went viral on Twitter with over 3,000 retweets to date:
Don’t do this, @Target pic.twitter.com/cfh3cp5Nqa
— Abi Bechtel (@abianne) June 1, 2015
In an interview at the weekend Bechtel said she hadn’t expected to be at the centre of the discussion about gender:
“I didn’t expect it to become the center of this entire discussion about gender and the way toys are marketed. But Caitlyn Jenner’s pictures had just come out. And the Supreme Court’s ruling on same-sex marriage came out soon after. So there was a whole lot of discussion about gender and gender roles anyway. The tweet just landed at the right time.”
Furthermore, last year, they were criticised for their gendered pajamas range – superheroes for boys and “I only date heroes” for girls. If this is Target’s PR response, great. Change often comes about after being caught red-handed in some way.
Response to Target’s signage changes
As if it was the end of the world as we know it, some Target customers took to posting on non-related threads on Target’s Facebook page.
Exercise your right and treat yourself for biking to work today. Happy #MondayMotivation!
Posted by Target on Monday, 10 August 2015
Which yielded comments such as this:
“We are done. No more Target.
To remove one of the very thing that makes us all unique . To stuff all children into the same box. What’s next we all get a number instead of a name? Part of our beautiful God given identity is in our gender.
You are losing a lot of people with your madness.”
Clearly not getting that offering children only 2 gendered boxes hardly makes them unique whereas offering no boxes or labels at all gives them infinite beautiful freedom to be creative in their expression, play, and development. Sigh!
For every shopper they lose they’ll gain one like Tonya Hardin:
“Thank you, Target. Thank you for being you, and for reminding the rest of us (especially our children) that it’s okay for them to be themselves, too. In the face of adversity, you’ve stood up for what you believe, and I respect that wholeheartedly. I rarely ever shopped at Target before, but I plan to start now. You may have lost some people, but that’s one customer gained in exchange. Thanks, again. My girls can’t wait to see the new toy section!”
Let Toys Be Toys
The UK-based #LetToysBeToys campaign will be pleased, however. Indeed, they are, as according to Let Toys Be Toys:
“Fourteen UK retailers have agreed to drop boys and girls signs since our campaign began in late 2012. It’s heartening to see that stores in the US are now following suit.
This change is part of an overall shift in retailers’ approach. Our research found a 60% drop in the use of ‘boys’ and ‘girls’ signs in UK toy stores between 2012 and 2013, and a 46% drop in the use of gender categories for toys on websites between 2012 and 2014.”
A US blog that aims to educate people on”how marketing, sexualization, gender stereotypes, and body image impact childhood” was very pleased to hear the news:
“all it will take is one of the retailing giants to be bold enough to deviate from status quo and the rest will fall like dominoes”
A parent and writer for TIME Magazine called it “just the tip of the iceberg” and suggested to parents that:
“Just because your son wants a My Little Pony bedspread does not mean he’s gay. Just because your daughter wants a bug collecting kit doesn’t mean she’s transgender. And if your children don’t identify with the gender binary, that’s OK. Gender identity has nothing to do with signage in a store. Maybe you should consider backing off and loving the wonderful being you created whether they are homosexual, or queer, or transgender, or straight. Whether they like pink or blue or yellow or polka dots.”
“For Him, For Her” product labeling is binary and patronising, and in an age that has accepted transgender Big Brother winners and TV-series stars, same-sex marriage and intersex athletes, it’s time we stopped the pseudo-division between his and her, boys and girls, and let life be life, and stuff, well… be simply stuff.
Earlier this year, the UK department store Selfridges began trialling agender clothing. Moves across everything from toys to clothes are needed to both ease and keep up with the gender-free and genderqueer nature of many growing up in these more enlightened times. That said, narrow-minded binary responses such as “boys are boys and girls are girls” still abound, but are slowly being drowned out by progress.
‘He, She, Me’: an exclusive track by Devonté Hynes and Neneh Cherry, commissioned by Selfridges who launched their agender clothing range in 2015: