Target made a big deal last month about how they were taking down the signs designating toys being for girls or boys. I was a little startled by this, because I was pretty sure that I’d never actually seen a sign designating the girls’ aisles and the boys’ aisles: you were supposed to figure it out for yourself based on the quantity of pink. (Available in “all” or “none.”)
Anyway, I had missed the kerfluffle back in June where a mother took a picture of a sign directing shoppers to “building sets” and “girls’ building sets.” That’s what Target was apologizing for and saying they wouldn’t do anymore.
So here’s what I wanted to know: (1) Had they maybe possibly taken the incredibly radical step of putting the Lego Friends sets in with the rest of the Legos? And (2) Those “girls’ building sets” advertised back in June — did they still have them somewhere, or did they deal with this problem by no longer stocking them?
I’m not actually sure, since I didn’t run over in June to check what those Girls’ Building Sets actually were. But if you look on the Target website, they still do classify toys by gender. If you search for building sets, you can still filter then as “Boy,” “Girl,” and “Gender Neutral.”
You get 1,164 results when you search for “building sets” and it would really be awesome if you got 1,164 results when you filtered for “gender neutral,” but in fact when I checked, there were 477 gender neutral building sets, 351 boy building sets, and 82 girl building sets. The girl-designated building sets were mostly Lego Friends, but also included Goldieblox, as well as pink Tinkertoys, pink Lincoln Logs, and a few other odds and ends. Lego Friends remain available in Target stores (and in fact have expanded their foothold) but none of the others are available. Or at least I didn’t find them when I went over there and looked.
Targets tend to have a pretty standard layout; I took notes (and photos) at the SuperTarget nearest to my house. Approaching from the Baby/Layette area you first encounter some baby and toddler toys (mostly gender-neutral), followed by a genuinely gender-neutral aisle that has the regrettably super hackable VTech stuff, the Peanuts stuff, and some oddball stuff like a small selection of wood toys. Then we plunge into GIRLLAND.
To be scrupulously fair, there’s a Play-Doh section across from the sea of Our Generation merchandise (Target’s knock-off of the ludicrously overpriced American Girl dolls) and you really don’t get much more gender-neutral than Play-Doh.
The doll aisle is followed by an aisle of mostly Disney Princess stuff with a side of WHAT THE HELL IS THIS AND WHY WOULD I ALLOW IT IN MY HOUSE.
And then I saw animatronic elephant and puppies and kittens with glowing eyes, and those were so terrifying that I had to write an entirely different post about those.
The next aisle is Barbie, Bratz, and a bunch of similarly-sized dolls, plus the Nerf girl line, Rebelle. Their Rebelle line was rolled out in 2013 with a pink Nerf bow and was clearly aimed at fans of Merida from Brave and Katniss Everdeen. They’ve expanded to blasters of various kinds, some of which come with jewelry and in colors that aren’t pink.
Oh, this toy might also be named to appeal to fans of the Divergent series, maybe. (Dauntless™)
Then we have another girl aisle with more terrifying animatronic stuffed animals, some teeny-tiny choking hazard toys like Littlest Petshop, and the Lego Friends line.
I should note that I am 99% sure that the “girl building sets” back in June were not Lego Friends, because I have not yet seen them mixed in with the regular Legos in any Target store. They have at least made some progress, in the sense that they are now back-to-back with the regular Lego aisle. The regular Lego aisle is almost but not quite pink-free. They do have one box of supplementary bricks that includes pinks and lavenders…
…shelved right above the supplementary bricks in the classic color scheme. To give Lego credit where it’s due, I’ll note that many, many sets included female minifigs, including a Marvel set with Black Widow (though she is not riding her own motorcycle, at least she’s in the set so you can enact it properly) and female police officers, surfers, and rescue workers in the City line. (The “all you need is a ponytail on the minifig! No pink and purple required!” sarcastic response to the Lego Friends sets may in fact have been quietly taken to heart by the Lego corporation, because I think this is significantly better than it used to be.)
Beyond the Lego aisle, there’s a large section of mostly-Nerf-branded toy guns that shoot foam darts…
…along with the non-Lego building sets, some buildable robot sets, and some Halo and Call of Duty play sets. The following aisle is mostly cars and trucks, followed by another aisle with cars and trains, followed by Star Wars. Then there’s a weird catch-all aisle with Marvel action figures, animatronic dinosaurs, all the radio-controlled stuff that we’ve started calling “drones” even when it’s children’s toys, and, okay, this was the weirdest:
Back in the girl section I think I mentioned that there’s a toy called Littlest Pet Shop. It’s a line of play sets with teeny tiny cute animals, by which I mean things like doe-eyed monkeys with pink kitten sidekicks:
Boys are allowed to like animals but they are not supposed to like cute animals (even though they’re totally allowed to like puppies — look, I don’t make these rules, okay?) so someone has helpfully rolled out a toy to let boys also collect cute little pocket-sized plastic animals but it’s fine and appropriately masculine because these are ugly. Plus, they make gross sounds.
Maybe even over thirty gross sounds. (By “gross sounds,” FYI, they mostly mean “poorly rendered fart noises and toilet flushes.”)
Some of them even come with surprise metallic poop.
It’s not actually that only boys get poop-themed toys, for the record. I mean over in the girls’ section there’s this beauty:
I dimly remember asking for the 1978 version of Baby Alive as a child and having my repulsed mother say, “why would anyone want a doll that poops?” I had no good answer for that question even when I was five.
The one bit of gender-neutrally encouraging news about the whole toy section is that they do have a back row that runs alongside everything else, where they carry the puzzles and board games but also a wide selection of craft kits, science kits, and cooking kits. The Easy-Bake Oven is next to the snow cone maker (which has historically been marketed to both girls and boys) and they had science kits side by side with Make Your Friends Glittery Pink Bracelets With Scents kits. That’s actual progress. KUDOS TO YOU FOR THAT, TARGET.
I’m guessing that some of my readers have been getting steadily more irritated by my persistent insistence that there are Girl Aisles and Boy Aisles. After all, this. And we all know girls who play with trucks, boys who play with dolls, girls who hate pink, boys who love dress-up, etc. Everyone should be playing with the toys that appeal to them. But I’m not, in fact, just categorizing based on the color of the boxes.
If you look beyond the colors, you’ll notice that many boxes show you a kid playing with the toy.
I counted male faces and female faces in the aisle with the Nerf toys (which also had the non-Lego building sets, some buildable robots, and the Halo and Call of Duty play sets.) There were 130 boys and men depicted across the different toys (counting both the pictures, and the recognizably male toys, like some of the soldiers in the play sets) and 4 girls and women. For real, the manufacturers are doing everything in their power to make sure that any child who picks up the box will know that this is a toy for BOYS. Any girl who walks into that aisle will get the message that she doesn’t belong.
Lego sets do not show you pictures of the child playing with them, but there are minifigs in almost every box, so there are plenty of gendered figures you can count. I counted the recognizably female characters on the boxes on display in the main Lego aisle: there were 28, which actually seemed pretty good to me compared to what I was kind of expecting. However, I counted the recognizably male figures and got 250. And that was almost certainly an undercount, given that I was pretending that this:
…was a “can’t tell, so we’ll call it gender neutral” figure. (From the “Ninjago” line.) Plus I counted the Storm Troopers from older Star Wars sets as universally male but I counted the Storm Trooper-like characters from the Force Awakens sets as gender neutral because WHO KNOWS, maybe the First Order has discovered equal-opportunity hiring in the last 32 years? (I can live in optimism until the movie comes out.)
Were the girl aisles similarly segregated? Heck yeah. I was getting pretty tired so I did not try to count every Barbie and every Bratz doll but there were all of six male figures in that aisle.
The thing I found most obnoxious were the science toys that showed boys, and only boys, on the front of the boxes, but put a girl on the back:
This was a trend, FTR:
The really cool buildable robot did the same thing, although they made the boy just a faceless boy-shaped figure on the front, and the girl got highlighted in the aisle advertising, which was in fact three of the four female faces in the Nerf aisle I described above. (The remaining one was a civilian being protected in one of the Call of Duty or Halo play sets.)
This infuriates me. You do not get partial credit for egalitarian approaches because you put a girl on the back of the box. If you’re afraid that the boys will shy away from the girl cooties if there’s a girl on the front, you can go with the option where you show just the toy, which is what plenty of the toy companies do these days anyway.
I’ll also just point out that the kids shown on packages were overwhelmingly white. There were a handful of racially ambiguous kids shown playing with the foam weaponry but I don’t think I saw one single black kid on any package. (There were a few black characters and black dolls. Not many, though, despite the fact that the Target I shop at is in a very racially mixed area.)
Fundamentally the problem here comes from many sources. Target is not the one designing the packaging for any of this stuff, but there certainly are things they could do to make those aisles less of a GIRLS ONLY / BOYS ONLY experience as kids walk through them, just as they’ve done with that back aisle. Three simple shifts they could make in aisle organization to provide a more integrated toy shopping experience:
- They could move Lego Friends in with the main Lego aisle. They have totally been going in that direction, so maybe that’s the eventual plan, but they haven’t done it yet. There is nothing inherently wrong with the Lego Friends sets; some of them are very cool (they have an Elsa ice palace and an elven treehouse set) and the minifigs are more detailed. Right now, the non-Friends Lego takes up both sides of a full aisle, but both Lego Friends and regular Lego have the “Lego Junior” sub-line that is designed to be a very easy build. You could segregate those to make them easier to find, in the pull-out in the next aisle, and add the rest of the building sets, including the other younger-kid building sets like Duplos and Mega Bloks.
- They could move Nerf Rebelle in with the rest of the Nerf. There’s absolutely no reason not to have Nerf Rebelle right next to the other blasters, and that would add 23 female faces to that aisle.
- They could move the Disney costumes and play props next to the Marvel costumes and play props. You could have the Elsa dress and tiara and so on next to Thor’s hammer and Cap’s shield. Bonus: maybe if the Marvel stuff was routinely next to the Princess stuff, we’d finally get some Black Widow merchandise?
It would also be really awesome if the toy manufacturers would gender their toys a little less aggressively, but that’s probably a rant for another day.
I’ll end on an up note, which was this toy I found on an endcap, just as I was getting ready to go:
It’s part of a set of toys release by Wizards of the Coast — six little vinyl figures representing various Planeswalkers. Three male, three female. Kudos to you, Wizards of the Coast. I appreciated the wide variety of female characters on your cards back when I was buying them in 1994, and I appreciate your egalitarian approach now.