Choosing Toys: What Eliminating Gender Labels in the Toy Aisles Really Means

Kids today are growing up in a world of change. Slowly but surely, gender roles are broken down every day. Girls are no longer bound to aspire to solely be good wives and mothers, and boys are no longer expected to be the ultimate portrayal of strength. Instead, all kids are encouraged to do and be everything and anything they can dream. Women are working as scientists and engineers, some of whom are the sole breadwinners of the family. More and more men are taking on the job of stay-at-home-dad. Families are no longer restricted to beginning with a mom and a dad, but maybe two moms or two dads. Less boundaries means more opportunities for all kids, and all of these changes are reflected in the toy aisle.

Earlier this year, Amazon removed the “boys” and “girls” toy categories from its website, and just last week, Target announced it will remove gender labels and gender-specific colors from its in-store signage displays. Are these changes good or bad, and what do they actually mean for consumers?

Removing gender-specific colors from in-store signage does not mean any changes in how toys are merchandised will take place. You won’t suddenly walk into Target and be shocked to find Barbie and Ken mingling with the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles, because that type of merchandising doesn’t make sense for the consumer — especially the consumer who doesn’t have kids of his or her own and isn’t so familiar with buying toys.

Toys will likely still be where they have always been. Barbie will still commandeer the doll aisle, alongside her friends Elsa, Frankie Stein, and Twilight Sparkle. If you are looking for one of these lovely ladies, odds are, you are interested in other fashion dolls as well.

Merchandising products that are similar in the same place is smart for the retailer, because it encourages consumers to add-on to their purchase and/or find what they are looking for with ease. The result: An aisle that radiates a pink glow. However, does a pink aisle mean only girls can look for toys there? It doesn’t — and now, it won’t say that it does.

And, when you think about it, do you really need a sign to tell you where to find toys meant for girls and toys meant for boys? If you remove the word “Girls” from the sign that reads “Girls Building Toys,” it’s safe to say that the pink and purple packaging, the curly scrawls of the words “Disney Princess” and the endless twinkles of glitter will still tip you off that maybe — just maybe — the building sets in this section were designed with girls in mind. Target and Amazon are not ending the segregation of boys’ and girls’ toys, but they are taking a small step in that direction.

Many toys are still gendered — and that’s done for a reason. Manufacturers conduct thousands of hours of play-testing each year and base their product lines on how kids play and react to their toys. Some girls respond better to toys that are pink and sparkly, while many boys prefer bold colors and more masculine themes. However, no two kids are alike, and gender “norms” do not apply to all kids.

Just like you won’t find the words “girls” and “boys” on store signage anymore, you also won’t find a security guard in front of the respective pink and blue aisles. Parents and gift-givers are — and always have been — free to purchase whatever toys they want for their kids, and it’s important to understand your child’s needs and interests and select something that perfectly fits his or her personality — no matter where it is on a toy store shelf.

While not all consumers are happy with the changes, they did come as a direct result of consumer demand. By eliminating the extra gendering implemented by retailers, parents and kids may be more inclined to venture out of their comfort zone and explore new options in the toy aisles, or, maybe they won’t. Either way, it’s important to remember that purchase power and the power to implement change lies in the hands of consumers.

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