Kids play dolls and action figures | Source: Adobe Stock

The war between pink and blue is back in the mainstream.

Following two previous attempts, a bill aimed at creating gender-neutral toy departments has been passed into law in California.

Bill AB-1084 — Gender-neutral Retail Departments goes into effect as law on Jan. 1, 2024, and requires that all retail stores that sell toys, games, and other kids’ products and employs more than 500 employees across locations within the state must “maintain a gender-neutral section or area, to be labeled at the discretion of the retailer.” According to the bill, the location should contain “a reasonable selection of the items and toys” that will be grouped together “regardless of whether they have been traditionally marketed for either girls or for boys.”

The exact definition of what a “reasonable selection” is remains to be seen, but the legislation states that the major issue at hand is that “keeping similar items that are traditionally marketed either for girls or for boys separated makes it more difficult for the consumer to compare the products and incorrectly implies that their use by one gender is inappropriate.

Gender roles in toys have been a hot-button issue for years that notably flared up between 2013-2015 as some major retailers, including Target, did away with gender-based signage in stores. In the U.S., most mass retailers group toys by category and brand as opposed to gender, but still the heavy proliferation of pink and blue in packaging lends itself to a perceived divide, particularly in the doll, action, construction, and vehicle categories.

A still from The LEGO Group’s Ready for Girls campaign | Source: The LEGO Group

Timed for International Day of the Girl celebrations, The LEGO Group issued the results of a survey in which they questioned more than 7,000 parents around the world about gender norms and perception. The survey revealed that despite years of improvement, many stereotypes still exist and the company has pledged itself to help end those damaging ideas through a new campaign: Ready for Girls. According to LEGO data, 71% of boys vs. 42% of girls say they worry about being made fun of if they play with a toy typically associated for the other gender.

Related: Increasing Inclusion in Toys: Why Toy Companies Should Focus on Skills

“The benefits of creative play such as building confidence, creativity, and communication skills are felt by all children and yet we still experience age-old stereotypes that label activities as only being suitable for one specific gender,” says LEGO Chief Marketing Officer Julia Goldin. “At the LEGO Group we know we have a role to play in putting this right, and this campaign is one of several initiatives we are putting in place to raise awareness of the issue and ensure we make LEGO play as inclusive as possible. All children should be able to reach their true creative potential”

The California legislation is already raising eyebrows as retailers will be liable for a civil penalty not to exceed $250 for a first violation or $500 for subsequent violations. California, under Governor Gavin Newsom is the first state to enact such a law. In a tweet earlier today, Texas Governor Greg Abbott took issue with the law, stating “In Texas, it is businesses — NOT government — that decide how they display their merchandise.”

About the author

James Zahn

James Zahn

James Zahn, AKA The Rock Father, is Editor-in-Chief of The Toy Book, a Senior Editor at The Toy Insider and The Pop Insider, and Editor of The Toy Report, The Toy Book‘s weekly industry newsletter. As a pop culture and toy industry expert, Zahn has appeared as a panelist and guest at events including Comic-Con International: San Diego (SDCC) Wizard World Chicago, and the ASTRA Marketplace & Academy. Zahn has more than 30 years of experience in the entertainment, retail, and publishing industries, and is frequently called upon to offer expert commentary for publications such as Forbes, Marketwatch, the Wall Street Journal, the New York Times, USA Today, Reuters, the Washington Post, and more. James has appeared on History Channel’s Modern Marvels, was interviewed by Larry King and Anderson Cooper, and has been seen on Yahoo! Finance, CNN, CNBC, FOX Business, NBC, ABC, CBS, WGN, The CW, and more. Zahn joined the Adventure Media & Events family in 2016, initially serving as a member of the Parent Advisory Board after penning articles for the Netflix Stream Team, Fandango Family, PBS KIDS, Sprout Parents (now Universal Kids), PopSugar, and Chicago Parent. He eventually joined the company full time as a Senior Editor and moved up the ranks to Deputy Editor and Editor-in-Chief.