What’s wrong with this Target sign?

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Tribune Media Wire

GREEN, Ohio — Maybe you noticed that some Target stores have signs in the toy department for “Building Sets” and “Girls’ Building Sets.”

Perhaps, like Abi Bechtel, you questioned the need for the distinction. The Ohio mother tweeted a picture of the signs in a Green, Ohio, store with the caption, “Don’t do this, Target.” She found that many people agreed marketing toys by gender is “regressive and harmful.” The picture was retweeted more than 2,000 times and prompted dozens of supportive responses.

But toymakers and distributors like Target say consumer demand is the reason for the labeling, reviving the old chicken and egg argument about who’s to blame for gendered toys — toymakers or consumers.

Stores organize products and market them based on consumer feedback, said toy trends specialist Adrienne Appell.

“They’re categorized in a way that’s easier for the general population to find,” said Appell, a spokeswoman for the Toy Industry Association, a trade group that represents toymakers.

Appell pointed to the success of building sets geared toward girls — like GoldieBlox, Roominate and Lego Friends — as signs that the approach could make girls more likely to play with toys they previously hadn’t shown interest in.

Target provided a similar rationale for the signs. In a recent test, when gender references were removed from the stores’ toy aisles, research showed that “guests preferred having a variety of indicators that can help inform and guide their shopping trip,” spokeswoman Molly Snyder said.

“We know families are tight on time and looking for inspiration. Therefore, we continually explore how to organize our stores and website in ways that will be convenient, appealing and helpful to our guests,” Snyder said in an email. “Additionally, on Target.com, when guests shop for toys, they most often begin their search by sorting toys by brand, age and gender.”

Bechtel’s not buying it. Using the signs “Building Sets” and “Girls’ Building Sets” sends a message that girls are a sub-market, she said.

“It stood out to me as a good example of the way our culture tends to view boys and men as the default, normal option and girls and women as the specialized exception,” she said.

“I hope that Target and other retailers will pay attention to this conversation and consider removing gender from the way they market their toys. I think that the overwhelming response to my tweet is a good indication that there are a lot of consumers who would welcome that change.”

Psychologists agree that putting “boy” and “girl” labels on toys sends the message that something is intended for one group and not the other.

“Toymakers say that the research shows girls want to play with gendered toys. But that’s because that’s all girls know,” said Carrie Goldman, author of “Bullied: What Every Parent, Teacher and Kid Needs to Know About Ending the Cycle of Fear.”

“It’s about framing. If you frame their world in a certain way and then ask them what they like, they tell you what they know,” she said. “They’re drawing on research from kids who have been inundated with the message from start. They don’t have a good control group.”

What would help? Toys with no labels indicating they’re geared for one gender or another, she said. That, and toys that give girls and boys equal play in the marketing materials and in the sets.

She pointed to the short-lived success of Lego’s set featuring female scientists, which sold out within days.

Lego has not announced plans to produce more of them.

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5 comments

  • Mike

    I don’t understand what’s wrong with that. Should we eliminate the “girls” clothing section and merge it with the “boys”? Yes, it is the same thing. We are choosing the clothes our children wear just as much as we are choosing the toys they play with. Gender neutrality is ridiculous and is impossible to achieve in it’s purist form. Let girls be girls and boys be boys.

    • Mike

      They don’t want to. Liberals find ways to be perpetually offended. When Liberals are offended, the rights of others end.

      The point everyone is missing here is that no one is stopping you from going into the Girls’ Building Sets aisle to buy a toy for your son. YOU don’t want to be seen in that aisle with your son, that’s all it is. YOU’RE the one that’s being judgmental, why can’t your kids just like what they like? Because you don’t want your son to like ‘girly’ things, so instead you’re trying to push to make it genderless. All so YOU won’t be offended.

      The people trying to push this shit, the Liberals… They need to shut their fucking mouths until they learn to be happy on the inside. They aren’t so they project that hate onto others, calling them sexist, misogynistic, hateful, closed-minded, etc.

      Remember, when you say stuff like that to people just because they don’t agree with you? You’re projecting how you feel on the inside onto other people. All because… LIBERALS CAN’T BE BLAMED.

  • commonsense

    Doesn’t this b$@*h have anything important to do besides complaining about store signs? If she doesn’t like them she can leave.

  • Emily Franklin

    This is blatant sexism on the part of Target. To provide girl specific building sets and not provide boy specific building sets is discriminatory against the male gender. They should be severely fined and made to either remove the girl specific building sets or provide boy specific building sets. Male discrimination must stop!!