Re: Definition: How Toys Are Changing the Conversation About Gender (Video)

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Earlier this month, a major retailer announced it would be doing away with gender-specific signage in some of its aisles, which means that no longer will things like bedding or toys be organized by “Boy” or “Girl.” It is the latest development in a nationwide conversation about gender that has ignited passionate arguments from all walks of life, but perhaps the first to bring the heated conversation into the world of retail. The general idea behind Target’s decision is that toys should not be marketed as exclusively suited for boys or girls, and that girls are as free to play with G.I. Joe action figures as boys are with Easy-Bake ovens. For some, doing away with “Girls Bedding” and “Boys Toys” is a move in the right direction, where traditional ideas about gender roles are abandoned for more liberal, all-inclusive conceptions of what it means to be male or female. For others, it is the blatant disregarded for the unique qualities between the two, qualities that should be celebrated.

In its announcement, Target explained the ongoing process; “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.” According to the Washington Post, the decision to “strike a better balance” was spurred on by an angry tweet from a mother upon seeing a Target aisle with labels saying “Building Sets” and “Girls’ Building Sets,” but Target has never specifically addressed the veracity of that statement. Nevertheless, the giant retailer appears to be taking the concerns of some parents seriously and has ushered in a dialogue about whether or not “boy” and “girl” are labels that do more harm than good.

That dialogue took center stage on last night’s episode of The Nightly Show. Host Larry Willmore was joined by comedians Rory Albanese, Andrea Savage, and Alonzo Bodden and they addressed Target’s gender-neutral policy. Savage feels that we’re living in an “antiquated system” and that those up in arms about Target’s decision should just “calm the fuck down.” “We’re not trying to make girls boys and boys girls,” she argues. “It’s more of an issue for the parents,” Bodden remarks at one point in the conversation, taking the onus of self-identification away from the children. “You turn a kid loose in a store, he runs wild. He doesn’t look what aisle to run wild in.” Savage goes on to include a personal experience, mentioning that her 6-year-old daughter is immediately turned off by anything that says “boys,” but without labels, she’s into things like “engineering” (which is traditionally marketed towards boys). When Willmore asks the panel whether we’re headed to the removal of all gender-specific labels, Albanese quickly quips “adult toys stores don’t have gender classifications.”

As political correctness continues to be a facet of society many struggle with, is the conversation about gender simplifying the complex relationship between gender and biological sex? Does gender conformity contribute to an individual’s sense of identity, or is it merely a way to market products?

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