Gender Neutrality

Since Target announced that they were removing the gender-specific signs in their toy department, a lot of people seem to be losing their minds over the idea of gender neutrality and the idea of getting rid of gender roles in children.  I hadn’t really given any thought to it until I discovered the article about someone replying to the comments on the Target Facebook page, pretending to be customer service.  While they were all directed towards the negative reactions, it got me thinking about what this move means and how it really affects people.  The thing with gender neutral signage is that it doesn’t actually affect anyone.  When you think about it, even parents with kids are not really affected by it in the sense that it is a life changing thing.  I read a lot of comments that claimed the store was doing this horrible thing and how these people would never shop at Target again.  I have to admit that I really could not understand where they were coming from.

The only thing that this has actually done is blurred the lines between which toys are “acceptable” to which genders.  I really don’t see this as necessarily a bad thing.  If a boy wants to play with a doll or a girl wants to play with a truck, why should grown ups be trying to tell them otherwise?  As one woman had commented, if her little boy wanted to play with a doll, he could grow up to be a father.  I really feel that a lot of this negative backlash is stemming from the fear and misunderstanding of the LGBT community.  I really believe that there are so many people out there who are misinformed about sexuality that they believe that allowing their child to play with a toy that was supposedly meant for the other gender will make their child gay or transgender.  It’s frustrating the level of ignorance and hatred over something that cannot be controlled.  This is the only reason I can come up with as to why some people are in such an uproar over the signage change.

I firmly believe that we need to end gender stereotyping and traditional gender roles and accept that, while men and women do have different strengths, being one sex or another does not determine their aptitude towards any one career or activity.  I firmly believe that this is how gender stereotypes become so ingrained in peoples’ minds.  It starts young, by dictating what toys children can play with based on their gender.  It does more harm than good.  We should be letting our kids play with the toys they want to play with and not try to discourage their imaginations.  We all know that a lot of the time, kids don’t end up playing with toys how the toy companies intend them to play with them.  In fact, I’m pretty sure they had no intention of Barbie riding around on Thomas the Tank, or that Mr. Potato Head is the greatest archaeological find in the sandbox.

Speaking of toy companies; for those who are really so concerned about what gender toys should be, toy companies are still continuing to market their toys completed based on gender.  Have you ever seen a commercial with a girl playing with Hot Wheels or Transformers? Or a commercial with a boy playing with My Little Pony?  No, and you’re not likely to anytime soon.  Toy companies will continue to take the easy road and market their toys on a gender basis.  Tools and cars for boys; dolls and tea sets for girls.  Just because Target it changing their signage doesn’t mean that the toys themselves are going to be any less targeted.

I personally think we should extend this kind of thinking into children’s clothes as well.  Girls should be able to wear dark and medium blues and greens, and if boys want to wear pastels and pink, then they should be allowed to do that too.  It wasn’t so long ago (in the grand scheme of time and history) that pink was actually a colour for boys.  Gender stereotypes are always changing so I say, why not just do away with them all together?  We are all individuals that really cannot be stuffed into little boxes and roles that are expected to work for everyone.

I think, like most girls (though I will definitely not say all), I mostly tended to go for the “girl” toys like Barbie and Sailor Moon, but I was fortunate enough that my parents didn’t believe in the strictly girl and boy toys.  As I got older, I became interested in Lego and my parents bought me a couple of the castle sets, which were definitely not marketed towards girls.  I loved building different things (and even now, I still would be willing to play with Lego).  Girls should be encouraged to play with toys like that if they are so inclined to.  Some of those girls could grow up and become engineers and builders and there is no reason we shouldn’t be encouraging children to pursue what they love, even if it doesn’t fit the stereotypical gender role.  The same obviously goes for the boys too.  Maybe that little boy playing with the doll will end up becoming a nurse because they like taking care of people.  It’s high time we stopped labeling things based on gender.

 

Jennifer Lewis

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