Pottery Barn Kids Under Fire for ‘Boy’ and ‘Girl’ Backpacks

Beth Greenfield
·Senior Editor
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Brady Murdough, 6, was surprised to find she couldn’t order one of these Pottery Barn Kids backpacks with a dragon patch, instead of the “girl” options seen here. (Photo: Pottery Barn Kids)

Six-year-old Brady Murdough of San Francisco loves dragons and purple. But when she tried to customize a Pottery Barn Kids backpack combining the two recently, the company wouldn’t allow it. Why? Because the purple backpack is for girls, it says, and the dragon patch — unlike the fairy, heart, and rainbow patch options — is for boys.

“I can’t tell you how disappointed I am in the gender stereotyping that is going on within your company,” Brady’s mom, Sarah Murdough, wrote on the Pottery Barn Kids Facebook page on Aug. 14. She then describes her unsuccessful attempt to get the dragon patch on the turquoise-and-plum (“presumably girl colors”) backpack.

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“Seriously? To get the dragon patch, you have to order a ‘boy’ colored backpack (green/navy/white),” she wrote. “I called and spoke with three representatives, all of whom said you can’t mix and match. I tried to explain that I wasn’t mixing and matching from different styles, and that the patches were available on the SAME STYLE BACKPACK but in different colors. Still the answer was no.” She went on to tell the company a bit about her daughter — how she loves art and soccer and wants to be a veterinarian when she grows up.

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“Why does PBK decide what girls like and what boys like?” she asks. “Do you know each child personally? Why are you limiting their decisions and forcing such basic and antiquated gender norms on them? Why can girls not get green and navy backpacks and boys can’t get turquoise or plum? Who are you to decide this for our children? Also, what does it say to girls that they can’t get dragon, football or spaceship patches? Are they not allowed to be interested in science fiction, sports or space? Is this really 2015? Is this really what we [are] offering our children?”

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Pottery Barn Kids’ “boy” backpacks. (Photo: Pottery Barn Kids)

Many supporters responded to her post, often sharing the eclectic preferences of their own children. “My daughter loves horses, princesses, painting and the colors purple and pink. But she also loves superheroes, her Lego monster truck, the Green Bay Packers and Hot Wheels cars,” noted one mom. Another posted, “My daughter Ella loves the color pink, princesses, AND trucks, aliens, and dinosaurs. Her twin brother, Logan, loves the color blue, trucks, monsters, superheroes, AND he loves butterflies, baby dolls, and cooking.”

Sarah tells Yahoo Parenting that all the input has been “amazing,” and that she’s been surprised about the amount of attention they’ve received. “I didn’t expect anything like this to happen,” she says. “But it has been fantastic to see. PBK has actually been great about it, too.”

In fact, Sarah reported in an update posted to Facebook, a Pottery Barn Kids representative quickly contacted her, thanking her for her feedback and letting her know that the company would be making changes regarding the boy-girl options of their products soon. She also offered Brady a complimentary backpack in any style she wanted, which Sarah politely declined and asked, instead, for PBK to make a donation to kids in need. The representative then agreed to do both. “So a plum/turquoise striped backpack with a dragon patch is on its way!” Sarah noted in her post. “There is great excitement at my house!”

But as of Tuesday, reports CBS San Francisco’s ConsumerWatch, “customer service reps still refused to honor a request for a boy patch on a girl backpack.”

Pottery Barn Kids did not immediately respond to Yahoo Parenting’s requests for more details about how and when the changes would take effect. Based on its website, though, the company has its work cut out for itself, as items including quilts and sheets, as well as general nurseries and bedrooms, are categorized by “boy” and “girl” (in addition to “unisex”).

The exchange between Sarah and the company came just days after Target made its much-buzzed-about announcement that it would ditch gender labels for kids in its home and toys sections (but not in its clothing aisles). “We heard you, and we agree,” the corporation announced in a statement on Aug. 10. “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.”

Dr. Christia Brown, professor of psychology at University of Kentucky and author of “Parenting Beyond Pink and Blue,” tells Yahoo Parenting that these seemingly small policies are important “because they can teach children important lessons about themselves.” As she explains it, “These policies teach children that what they like and how they play must be determined and dictated by their gender and that, if they have diverse or unique interests, then something is wrong with them. In this situation, this policy teaches that little girl that she should be either completely like a stereotypical girl (and like purple and hearts) or completely like a stereotypical boy (and like gray and dragons). She can’t be her own unique individual.”

Chalk it all up to an early life lesson for the new kindergartener — but one that will go far beyond gender boundaries, according to her mom. “Brady and I are going to use this as a reminder to us that not all kids have backpacks, so tomorrow we are going to go purchase some backpacks and school supplies to donate to a local family shelter for kids who may need one as the school year is about to begin,” Sarah noted on Facebook. “Perhaps if you have been following this thread, and you are so inclined, you could do something similar for a charity near you.” Duly noted!

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