Once, when I was out shopping, I saw a little boy with a fluffy, stuffed dog with a bright pink ribbon around its neck. I didn’t give the boy a second glance, but I noticed other shoppers doing double takes or openly staring, as if it is was some unnatural oddity.
I know why they stared.
A little boy was playing with a toy that, historically, has been enjoyed more by little girls. If a girl had been walking around the store with a G.I. Joe doll, the reaction might have been the same.
Sexism has, for decades, been an enemy we just can’t seem to stop. There have been victories, but in this war we’ve suffered a lot of casualties, too. And some of those who are hit the hardest are our kids.
Recently though, there was a triumph in this fight. Target announced it would be taking down “boy” and “girl” labels in its toy, entertainment and home departments.
The change came when customers complained about the unnecessary gender-based signs. For example, in the toy department, one sign read, “Building Sets” and the one underneath read, “Girls’ Building Sets.”
“We heard you, and we agree,” said Molly Synder, a Target spokeswoman, in a company statement. “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.”
Not only were these signs unnecessary, they were helping to enforce the sexist stigmas that still plague our society.
Little girls should not be restricted to shop only in the pink section of the store. Little boys should not be restricted to the blue section.
Kids are not defined by their genders. No one is. Instead of trying to put labels on toys or bedding or whatever else you’re trying to sell, you should just put everything together and let the kids pick out what they like themselves.
Put the Barbies and the G.I. Joes together on the shelves. Put the My Little Pony playset next to the Hot Wheels racetrack. Let the superheroes and the princesses mingle in the displays.
That’s how kids see them. So why can’t we? Why do we tell our children, through this type of gender labeling that they have to like a certain thing?
When we as a society market products to kids, do we really have to include their genders at all? Why can’t Barbie commercials star little boys? Why can’t Nerf Gun commercials star little girls?
Many kids struggle with their gender identity. Those who don’t, at the very least, have interests that fall outside what society would consider their gender norm.
We should encourage our kids to like whatever they want, regardless of which gender it’s marketed for. There are no rules here. Nothing is set in stone. No one is going to get in trouble for letting his or her kid be who they want to be.
It will take a few more victories, but we can win this war. Aren’t we all tired of the fighting? Of letting some silly stereotypes get in the way of our kids’ happiness?
Let’s stop the conflict once and for all. Our kids will shape our future. We’re leaving the world in their hands. So let’s leave them one without labels or judgments. Let’s leave them one in which toys are just toys.
Deanna Ferrante is a Senior Staff Writer for Central Florida Future.