In recent days, the toy industry has been abuzz with the news that Target will remove gender labels from its in-store marketing. That means for the retailer’s toy department, there will no longer be signage referring to certain toys as being girls’ and others as boys’, nor shelves swathed in pink or blue paper, which traditionally have had gender-specific connotations (pink for girls, blue for boys).
The Internet has been responding to the news as one might expect, with many voices cheering on the move, and others condemning it—some more hyperbolically than others. A Huffington Post article from this past Tuesday reported critics on Twitter expressing outrage, while organizations such as those supporting girls’ empowerment lauded Target’s move.
Through it all, the question of, “What do the parents who actually shop for toys at Target think about this?” seemed to go largely unanswered, save for a few anonymous or semi-anonymous quotes gleaned from social media. Call me a healthy skeptic of modern technology, but it seemed important to actually talk to parents—and Target shoppers—face-to-face and hear how they really feel about gender-specific marketing, and whether they’re happy with the idea of Target taking a more gender-neutral approach to its in-store displays.
So that’s what I did. On a recent evening, I visited the Target store located at the Atlantic Center in Brooklyn, which is also reportedly among the highest-grossing Target locations in the U.S. There, amidst the bustling toy department, I interviewed customers to get their take on the retailer’s decision to go more gender-neutral.
Mary Kouyoumdjian, who was on-hand shopping for a friend’s 12-year-old son, said she strongly supported Target’s decision. As someone interested in gender equality and the representation of women in the engineering and hi-tech fields, Kouyoumdjian was hopeful these types of changes would make more young girls interested in building toys.
Target’s decision to remove gender labels came after an Ohio mother tweeted a picture of aisle signage identifying building sets and girls’ building sets separately.
“If the aisle just said ‘Construction,’ I wonder if that would make girls more likely to choose those toys at a young age, or make their parents think to choose them,” Kouyoumdjian said.
Jackie, a mother of two who asked that her last name be withheld, also welcomed the change. She admitted to feeling uncomfortable at retail stores in which toys intended for girls would be in pink-themed aisles.
“It’s just a weird thing to pigeonhole all girls as if the only colors they like or are interested in are pink and red,” she said.
As we spoke, Jackie’s 5-year-old daughter and 8-year-old son were both enthusiastically examining toys featuring the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles and Marvel‘s Hulk. According to Jackie, these are the only types of toys that interest her daughter.
“The lines [of gender] don’t apply to us,” she said. “We’ve never really had a princess phase, though sometimes she is into fairies.”
Parents who supported Target’s move said that at some point, they have had to purchase a toy for their son or daughter that was manufactured for the opposite gender. As such, the in-store marketing is more for parents than kids.
Emmanuel Sabat, a father of two, said he has bought stuffed animals aimed at girls for his 1.5-year-old son. Both of his children play with a wide range of toys, and Sabat has learned that “pink isn’t just for girls,” and a toy “doesn’t have to be a manly toy,” for boys to play with them.
“For a kid, it’s about what they like,” he said. “The type of toys shouldn’t define what kids play with.”
Some critics of Target’s move have claimed that the gender-specific signage helps them find their way around stores. While no one we interviewed asserted that opinion, Matt Marks, who was in the store shopping with Kouyoumdjian, admitted that when shopping for his friend’s son, he tended to ignore anything pink and would just wait to see shelves with dark blue and gray hues.
“Without even thinking of it, I would tune out part of the aisle,” said Marks.
One parent and customer argued that once a family has been in the store a few times, they know where to find the toys they like, regardless of the in-store signage. The father—who was shopping with his daughter and wished to remain anonymous—expressed uncertainty about the effect Target’s changes would have. He said parents already have to make an effort to buy non-gendered toys.
“Maybe making toys that are less gender-specific versus marketing them that way is the issue,” he said.
(Editor’s note: An earlier version of this op-ed described a Target shopper as a parent, when she was actually on-hand shopping for a friend’s child’s birthday. We regret the error.)
For more commentary from Phil, check back often. Views expressed in this column are solely those of the author and interviewees, and do not necessarily reflect the views of The Toy Book as a whole. We hope that you will share your comments and feedback below. Until next time!