Target Ditches Gender Labels on Kids’ Products

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Target announced on Friday that it will stop labelling toys, as well as home and entertainment products, with “girls” or “boys.” (Image: Erik Mace/Yahoo Parenting)

After years of distinguishing girls’ and boys’ products in its toys, home, and entertainment sections, Target announced on Friday that it will stop making gender distinctions for things such as building blocks and bedding, instead simply labeling products as for “kids.”

In a statement posted on its website, the retailer said: “To help guests navigate our stores, we put a lot of thought into how things are organized. As part of that, we use signs and displays specially designed to help guests get through the store efficiently while pointing the way to more inspiration and great products. But we never want guests or their families to feel frustrated or limited by the way things are presented. Over the past year, guests have raised important questions about a handful of signs in our stores that offer product suggestions based on gender. In some cases, like apparel, where there are fit and sizing differences, it makes sense. In others, it may not … in some departments like Toys, Home or Entertainment, suggesting products by gender is unnecessary.”

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In its statement, Target officials said they are responding to messages from customers asking for the change. “We heard you, and we agree. 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. For example, in the kids’ Bedding area, signs will no longer feature suggestions for boys or girls, just kids. In the Toys aisles, we’ll also remove reference to gender, including the use of pink, blue, yellow or green paper on the back walls of our shelves. You’ll see these changes start to happen over the next few months.”

In an email to Yahoo Parenting, Target spokesperson Molly Snyder said the changes have been completed in some stores, while other stores are still working on them.

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The move comes after many customers — both parents and kids — called out Target and other retailers for gender labeling. In a June tweet, one Ohio mom posted a picture of a sign in one Target, which said that the aisle had “Building Sets” and “Girls Building Sets.” Her post, which was retweeted more than 3,000 times, said, simply, “Don’t do this, @Target.”

In February 2014, 7-year-old Charlotte Benjamin wrote a letter to Lego questioning why the company offered so few female characters. “Today I went to a store and saw Legos in two sections, the girls pink and the boys blue. All the girls did was sit at home, go to the beach, and shop, and they had no jobs but the boys went on adventures, worked, saved people, and had jobs, even swam with sharks,” she wrote. Then she asked the company to make “more Lego girl people and let them go on adventures and have fun ok!?!”

And after an 8-year-old female “Star Wars” fan wrote the Disney UK store questioning why the Darth Vader costume was labeled as for boys, Disney UK banished its “girls costumes” and “boys costumes” sections, opting instead for the all-inclusive “kids” label.

Dr. Christia Brown, professor of psychology at University of Kentucky and author of Parenting Beyond Pink and Blue, says Target’s latest move is admirable, if perhaps overdue. “It really corresponds with what a lot of research shows is good for kids,” Brown tells Yahoo Parenting. “Research overwhelmingly shows that when we segregate toys and label them explicitly for boys or girls, kids only gravitate to the toys labeled for their group. Even if it’s the same toy, if you label it ‘girls’ or make it pink, only girls want it. If you take the same toys and label it for boys, boys want it. So it’s not the toy itself; it’s the labeling that drives attention.”

That can be especially harmful to kids who, as a result, miss out on the lessons taught by toys that are traditionally for both boys are girls. “When you have toys for science and put them in the boy aisle, it teaches kids quite clearly that’s a boy topic,” Brown says. “Same for dolls. The problem is that the toys themselves can teach great skills. For boys, if they are encouraged away from dolls, they don’t get the chance to learn nurturing and care-taking, all the things we want them to do as parents. And then we are surprised when men grow up and aren’t comfortable changing diapers, when we clearly have steered them away from it all their lives.”

The next step, Brown says, will be to do away with the gender labeling on clothes. Despite Target’s claim that it’s necessary due to “fit and sizing differences,” Brown says that’s not really the case. “Until puberty, boys and girls are the same size and built the same way, so there’s no reason for kids’ clothes to be separated by gender,” she says. “But I think it’s going to be a while before we see the same trend in clothing. I think parents are more uncomfortable with that, especially with boys in clothes that are ‘for girls.’ Many parents are very committed to their children looking like their appropriate gender. Toys are less threatening to think about.”

But even though there is more work to be done, Brown says Target is setting a great example for other retailers. “Stores have a big responsibility, because how they label their products shapes what kids think is appropriate for them,” she says. “I think this will have a domino effect, and the reaction to it will be really positive.”

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