One early summer afternoon, long before target’s announcement that they are phasing out gender based signage, I stood in their water toys aisle trying to select a flotation device for my two year old daughter. I was annoyed and confused. I wanted a “puddle jumper” and had two options– a pink and purple one with a hideous plastic dolphins face coming out of the front of it, or one with a blue and green turtles design that was much cuter in my opinion. One was clearly being marketed as the “girls” puddle jumper, and the other was for boys. As a consumer, I was getting the loud and clear message that I was to buy the pink and purple dolphins contraption for my daughter, but I couldn’t bring myself to. It was ugly. And what if my next kid was a boy? I’d get a lot of eyebrows putting a boy in the pink one, and maybe a few, but far fewer putting a girl in the green one. I walked out of there with the turtle alternative wondering what on earth pink dolphins and green turtles have to do with girls and boys anyway.
When I read the headline that target was phasing out gender based signage my jerk reaction was a fist pump. I read the article and target’s official statement on the matter which prompted still more fist pumping. (Tangent–the truth is that my initial glee came because I misread the headline and thought that this new policy was going to apply to all children’s clothing. And I am so tired of gender specific children’s clothing!! It should all be gender neutral until they hit Kindergarten. Because all that would mean for me is not being expected to purchase an entire new wardrobe for my baby boy instead of dressing him in his older sisters hand me downs. Gender specific clothing is a joke. But that’s a blog post for another day.) Then I started reading some comments and descended slowly into a pit of despair, gloom, and apparent imminent destruction. Funny how comments sections can do that. I was completely floored and dismayed by the conservative backlash against this announcement. Many swore a boycott and railed that the world is headed towards the notion that gender doesn’t matter or even exist. Religious conservatives were freaking out about how boys and girls are different and gender differences matter.
But here’s the thing– gender differences DO matter, but they have nothing to do with the color of your child’s bedsheets or legos. I believe that gender is essential to our identity and that men and women have distinctly different, inherently feminine and masculine God-given characteristics that are that equip them for fulfilling their roles in a family unit. I don’t want my kids or grandkids growing up in a world where the notion of those differences is outdated and politically incorrect. But I want to grab and shake the shoulders of every religious conservative out there freaking out that removing blue and pink sectioning and changing the gender stereotyped way that their gender stereotyped toys are displayed is going to end the world. Think about what gender differences actually truly mean to you–the parts really matter, the character traits that you want your daughters and sons to emulate. Do you feel that the current status quo of kids toys does anything for those values of yours? I just google imaged “girl toys” and was horrified. The vast majority of those products tell our girls that they should be completely obsessed with their self image. The kind of dolls being marketed these days have nothing to do with fostering nurturing traits–they are about perfecting bodies, make-up, hair, and obsessing over outfits. Beauty counters, blowdryers, jewelry kits, with a smattering of kitchens and t-sets. These are the toys being marketed to our girls. There was also a vacuum. And some grocery store and food kits. And every single blasted thing on there is pink. Do the same for boys and you get cars, action figures, sports equipment, building sets, tool kits, trains, nurf guns, gameboys, drumsets. Toys of all colors.
I don’t like that at all. So excuse me while I not only celebrate Targets announcement, but hope that my daughter makes it to at least the 3rd grade without developing an eating disorder and a crappy self esteem. I want her to walk into toy sections full of all kinds of toys that encourage her to imagine, move, create and explore, without being limited by gender stereotypes and marketing. And that doesn’t mean that I don’t think it matters that she’s a girl. It just means that I want her to know that girls can play with cars too. And drive them. Or build them, design them, fix them, or shoot them. Their bodies need just as much exercise as boys do, so it’s cool if they are into basketball hoops and skateboards. They have just as much intellectual ability to conduct science experiments or build model airplanes and just as much potential in this world to become an amazing scientist or engineer.
I think that the social conservatives are kicking themselves in the foot with this one. If they continue to hyperventilate about pink and blue sheets and promote arbitrary stereotypes that don’t actually have anything to do with the gender differences they believe in, the next generation isn’t going to buy it. If you keep telling girls that their Womanhood is divinely inspired, and then hand them pink sparkly beauty kits to play with, they are eventually going to reject the entire message of femininity altogether–as the package that society handed it to them in. If you want your kid to have a strong sense of gender identity, recognize this one as the victory that it is–at least they won’t be shaking their heads like I am wondering what on earth pink dolphins and green turtles have to do with any of it.