California aims to mandate gender-neutral toy sections
Separate merchandising sections marked by traditional pink and blue color schemes for girls and boys have long been staples in home décor, apparel, toys and other retail verticals, especially for products designed for baby bedrooms or aimed at younger children. The California legislature, however, wants to see such products — at least some of them — merchandised together instead of split out by gender.
The bill does not seek to prohibit boys and girls sections in department stores but rather is aimed at requiring stores to have a gender-neutral section displaying items “regardless of whether they have been traditionally marketed for either girls or for boys,” according to the Associated Press. Having passed California’s state Senate on Wednesday, the bill next goes to the Assembly for a procedural vote before landing on Gov. Gavin Newsom’s desk.
The mandate would apply only to toys and “childcare items” like toothbrushes, not clothing, and would only impact businesses with more than 500 employees. Legislators attempted to pass this bill twice before, once in 2019 and once in 2020.
Critics of the bill point out that gender-based sections for such products make shopping more convenient for parents, and question if it is a proper use of government to demand businesses make what are, at base, parental decisions. Proponents say gender-neutral store sections would create safe spaces for children who do not conform to traditional gender roles.
Over the past couple of years, gender-neutral merchandising has come into vogue in numerous verticals, most notably in apparel, where chains like Target, H&M and Zara debuted gender-free or unisex lines of products and apparel. Toys “R” Us, before closing its doors, began experimenting with changing the tradition of merchandising toys separately for girls and boys. Target announced in 2015 that it would cease to use gender-based signage in some of its kids departments, provoking some controversy.
Even beyond the politics surrounding the issue, not every move that a brand or retailer has made in the direction of gender neutrality has been well-received.
Zara’s “ungendered” line, for instance, which launched in 2016, was accused by some Twitter users as constituting “genderwashing,” according to Mashable. Twitter critics saw the move as a way to brand basics, such as hooded sweatshirts and t-shirts, already functionally gender-neutral, as gender-free in order to piggyback on, and profit off of, trending social activism.
- California seeks gender neutral displays in large stores – Associated Press
- Is the future of fashion gender-free? – RetailWire
- Target gets cheers and jeers for gender-neutral signage – RetailWire
- Why Zara calling sweats ‘genderless’ is problematic – Mashable
DISCUSSION QUESTIONS: Do you see much of a need for gender-neutral signage or displays in stores? Are traditional boys and girls sections reinforcing stereotypes to a harmful degree?