Target Moves to Eliminate Gendered Toy Aisles

Two girls and one boy playing with wooden blocksRetail giant Target announced earlier this week that it will end the practice of segregating children’s toys based on gender stereotypes. The move comes after an Ohio woman tweeted an image showing a sign differentiating between “building sets” and “girls’ building sets.” The tweet garnered more than 3,000 retweets.

Many stores separate items based on gender and surround them with stereotypical “boy” and “girl” colors. In kids’ toy aisles, toys that may be appropriate for either gender—such as building blocks or puzzles—are given an arbitrary gender label, which may increase the likelihood that someone will buy toys that correspond to a child’s gender, deterring the child from playing with toys that do not.

The Effect of Gendered Toys on Child Development

Target’s Facebook page is littered with commentary about the controversial move, much of it negative, and some organizations have called for a boycott of the retailer. However, research suggests that labeling toys according to gender can harm children, and gender-neutral toys may open new possibilities for both girls and boys.

In a study led by Judith Elaine Blakemore—a professor of psychology and associate dean of Arts and Sciences for Faculty Development at Indiana University-Purdue University Fort Wayne—researchers gathered 100 toys, classifying them according to gender. They found that girls’ toys usually emphasize physical attractiveness, nurturing, and domestic skill, while boys’ toys typically emphasize violence, competition, and danger. The researchers found that strongly gender-associated toys were less likely to be supportive of optimal development than neutral or moderately gendered toys. They concluded that toys most likely to benefit children’s physical, cognitive, and artistic development were often categorized as gender-neutral or moderately masculine. These findings suggest that toy labeling could deprive girls from access to educational toys.

Another study—led by Jamie Jirout, an assistant professor at Rhodes College—suggests that playing with blocks might improve spatial reasoning skills. Spatial reasoning is associated with the ability to read maps and may help children who want to enter science, math, engineering, and technology-oriented careers. The researchers found that children who often (more than six times per week) played with blocks and other toys associated with spatial reasoning skill building had higher scores on the Block Design subtest of the Wechsler Preschool and Primary Scale of Intelligence—a common test of cognitive ability—than those who only played with them sometimes (three to five times per week). When children believe toys are for the other sex, they may not play with them. Blocks are often assumed to be masculine toys, and some researchers argue that this early stereotype can produce significant differences in skill between the sexes by the time children become adults.

From Color-Coding to Gender Neutral

Kathy Hardie-Williams, MEd, MS, NCC, LPC, LMFT, a therapist who specializes in parenting, welcomes the change. “The move to change to gender-neutral toy aisles benefits children because it provides opportunities for children to develop a wider range of interests and skills. For example, it can encourage women to develop skills in technology and science, areas in which there is currently a shortage of women. The move helps to eliminate gender segregation.”

The change, Target representatives say, will be a gradual one. Over the next few months, the retailer will remove color-coded signs, replacing them with neutral signs indicating kids’ sections. Each aisle will note which toys it contains, rather than which gender the toys are for.

References:

  1. Pawlowski, A. (2015, August 10). Why Target is phasing out ‘gender-based signage’ for kids. Retrieved from http://www.today.com/parents/target-removing-gender-based-signage-after-complaints-t37711
  2. Playing with puzzles and blocks could build children’s spatial skills. (2015, January 28). Retrieved from http://www.psychologicalscience.org/index.php/news/releases/playing-with-puzzles-and-blocks-may-build-childrens-spatial-skills.html
  3. What the research says: Gender-typed toys. (n.d.). Retrieved from http://www.naeyc.org/content/what-research-says-gender-typed-toys

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  • sebastian

    sebastian

    August 13th, 2015 at 4:16 PM

    I love that there is more and more of a move toward eliminating labels and always having people feel like they are defined by this or by that. It seems so much freer now than it ever has been in this world and I think that this is going to be such a positive impact on so many children.

  • Kim

    Kim

    August 13th, 2015 at 5:27 PM

    I KNOW that this is the issue du jour, but really? I grew up playing with Barbies and I am ok, no confusion whatsoever, and my brother played with little army men, again no confusion.
    Why does everything have to be such a big issue? There are so many terrible things going on and this is what makes the news.

  • Paul

    Paul

    August 14th, 2015 at 9:52 AM

    I applaud Target for trying to do the right thing, get some good PR and all that jazz. But what would really make me happy is if the retailers didn’t even have to worry about all these labels and it would just be, kids pick the toys you like to play with. And if this is what makes you happy, then great.

  • Sullivan

    Sullivan

    August 14th, 2015 at 6:35 PM

    Oh good grief what is next?! The mops with the bed sheets? Cereal with the shoes? This is insane.

  • Mike

    Mike

    August 14th, 2015 at 10:30 PM

    @Kim, child development affects adult happiness, so this topic is one of THE MOST important in existence. Adult happiness and skillfulness affects so much in the world. I’m not saying this particular story is Earth-shattering but I’m saying the general topic, child development, is one of the most important topics in existence. Research into child development is very important, and when teachers and parents can take advantage of that research, all the better.

  • lori

    lori

    August 15th, 2015 at 11:40 AM

    I never made that big of a deal over what my kids played with. My boys would usually gravitate to the typical boy toys and the girls to more girly stuff. With that being said, there were times when they all played with each others things, and that meant the boys with the dolls and the girls with the race cars. Big deal. They are all having a good time and using their imagination and that was always what the most important thing to me was.

  • Winnie

    Winnie

    August 16th, 2015 at 1:09 PM

    This must be something where the changes will be made over time because I was just in Target yesterday and saw no changes in the layout of the toys… they were how they have always been.

  • maisy

    maisy

    August 17th, 2015 at 9:41 AM

    Just because the labeling may have been removed doesn’t mean that the choices will not be the same or that parents still won’t naturally steer their children toward one brand or another. I think that this is something that is so ingrained in society that it will take a while for this to really take hold and for us to start seeing that a difference in not only marketing is being made but that also choices are being changed as well.

  • Heidi

    Heidi

    August 17th, 2015 at 4:16 PM

    Am I the only one sitting aorund going huh? who knew this would be a big thing? This will not change where I shop regardless of whether they make the changes or not, and I am sure that the kids really won’t care that much either.

  • Jack

    Jack

    August 18th, 2015 at 3:14 PM

    Look I am all for kids making their own choices about what they play with. But think about this- how many men are really going to be that comfortable with seeing their little boys dress up like princesses? Or their little girls zooming around with toy guns? The fact is that these stores can do all they want to do or can do to change perceptions but this is going to have to go pretty far and wide to change the minds of the millions of parents who actually fo the shopping and the purchasing. I like to think that I am an open minded kind of guy but the thought of letting my little boy choose a makeup palette over let’s say another more traditional male geared toy, that would be a tough one for me.

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