The Battle for the Target Toy Aisle

The Battle for the Target Toy Aisle August 19, 2015

Yesterday I found myself in Target in search of a tablet charger. On the way to the electronics section I walked by the toy aisles. And then I stopped and stared. I knew that Target had decided to remove the gendered labeling from its toy aisles, but there’s a difference between hearing the announcement and seeing the result. It was beautiful. Don’t get me wrong, the toys themselves are as gendered as ever, but with the plain wood backing the division was less obvious.

Some might think this a little thing, but I can tell you right now that that without the obvious “GENDER GENDER GENDER” coloring and labeling of the sections there are girls who will feel more comfortable checking out the Star Wars legos than they would have before, and boys who will feel more comfortable looking at the selection of Frozen dolls than they may have. After all, without the colored backings there is less to tell the children where to go, and which section they are supposed to be in.

And frankly? The section is so much more tasteful and less garish now.

Seeing these changes reminded me that I hadn’t written a post about Target’s announced change. What can I say? I’ve been busy! So now I’m late to the party, but I want to take a few minutes to go through the Council on Biblical Manhood and Womanhood’s article on the subject—Missing the Target: Some Brief Thoughts on Target’s Cultural Capitulation, by an author named Grant. Let’s get started, shall we?

Over the weekend, Target became the next corporate powerafter Amazon, to rid themselves of all gender designations and labels for children’s toys and bedding.

In the corporate rush to not be the company behind the ever-moving gender eight ball, all it seems to take is a few social-media punches from disgruntled, progressive customers, and companies are swift to jump on the winding, zigzag gender line.

The problem is, the line keeps moving and twisting, and in this case, disappearing.

Not that it will matter to most boys and girls. Boys will still want to play with Legos and sleep on Superman sheets, and girls will still want Barbie dolls and a Sofia pillow-case.

Look Grant, I don’t know what kind of kids you hang out with, but the ones I spend time with seem to be a bit more diverse. Also, for serious with this? Hi! I’m a girl, and I grew up playing with legos 24/7! And you know what? So did most girls I know. So enough with that legos are for boys gambit! As for Superman sheets, well, my daughter’s Minecraft and Star Wars obsession has us shopping in the “boys'” section constantly, so you may want to think again there. And you know what? My son plays with barbies, and loves Princess Sofia. And no, I didn’t tell him to. 

But in a world where the very concept of gender is being neutralized, and in a society where parents themselves are trying to outrun their own gender identities, dragging their children onto their own dark labyrinths (look no further than Bruce Jenner at the ESPY’s), this only adds to the problem.

Rather than reinforcing maleness and femaleness, this confuses it.

Instead of helping guide children towards embracing who they actually are, this blurs reality.

Wait. Stop. Back up. What “helping guide children toward embracing who they actually are” mean, in this context? I’m guessing it means telling children that their interests and life trajectories are determined by their genitalia. Am I right? Because that’s not helping children embrace who they are, it’s telling children what they are whether they want to be that or not. 

Gender Has Meaning

There is a jar-headish catch-phrase used in the Marine Corps that says, “Words mean things.” As silly as it sounds, it is eerily true. Lives depend, especially in combat, on speaking accurately and truthfully.

The principle holds true regarding gender. Gender means things.

Despite the culture’s belief that we can outrun our gender—and the God of the universe who created it—we are ultimately destined to be as God has intended: male and female.

Gender means . . . what, exactly? Please be clear. 

Sex is an integral part of being an image bearer of God; we are fundamentally at our very core either male or female (Gen 1:27).

Furthermore, our sexuality is not merely the product of our parents’ reproductive systems.

It is so much more than that.

Every person’s sexuality was planned and designed before the foundation of the world by a God who loves each person, as he made him or her to be, male or female.

So we don’t know what’s best for us, because God, and you are the arbiter of what God has revealed about us, even if you’ve never met us. Got it. 

So What’s the Point of Gender?

Progressives will say that gender-designated toys only serve to reinforce gender stereotypes. By that they are largely referring to the gender-designated roles lying just beneath the surface of both G.I. Joe and Barbie.

The Bible teaches that men are wired by God to protect and to pursue, so it is not surprising that they naturally like toys that by-and-large involve fighting, building, and racing. Women, on the other hand, are wired by God to nurture and to be pursued, so it is also not surprising that they largely enjoy playing with American Girl Dolls, Barbies, and Disney princess dresses.

Toy companies, of course, aren’t basing their marketing strategy on the Bible, but they do understand to a large degree God’s natural wiring of boys and girls, and they shape the production of their toys accordingly.

You know actually, I think I missed that part of the Bible. No seriously, Grant, please point me to the Bible passages that say that men are “wired” to protect and women are “wired” to nurture. The closest I see is the curse in Genesis, and (a) that was about men having to labor in the field and women having to labor in, well, labor, and (b) that was a curse, which means it was not God’s original plan, and besides, wasn’t Jesus supposed to undo all that?

This “protect” and “nurture” bullshit doesn’t come from the Bible, it comes from the Victorian era. I’m not making this up, I’m totally serious. Before the Victorian era, gender norms were often very different, including in areas influenced by Christianity. But for some reason modern day evangelicals have latched onto Victorian gender norms as though they come straight from the Bible when in fact they were a manifestation of a very specific time and culture.

Also? I spent my girlhood fighting my siblings with wooden swords and making bows and arrows out of branches I cut from the trees outside my house. I was fierce, and everyone knew not to tangle with me. My father banned me from wrestling with my brothers because, while it was one of my favorite things to do, he decided it was not “seemly.” I mean even today, has Grant never heard of Katniss from the Hunger Games? She’s many girls’ role model and idol, and she didn’t give a damn about this whole nurture bit, she was too busy trying to protect her people from being wiped off the earth.

And while we’re at it, my younger brother had an American girl doll. Not because it was some leftover he just picked up or something, but because he saved up his money and bought it. That’s how much he wanted it. He also had a dollhouse that he adored. Have I blown your mind yet, Grant? And no, we didn’t grow up in a home where that kind of thing was encouraged. We grew up in a home that pushed traditional gender roles and still we pushed the buck.

But let me ask you this. Even if it were true that boys are wired to fight and girls are wired to play with dolls, why would Target’s move be a problem? After all, the boys would still skip the doll section and go straight for the Star Wars legos, yes? And the girls would skip the nerf guns and head straight for the barbies, right? The only way Grant’s complaint makes any sense at all is if he is aware that gender is more complex than he thinks but wants to shove children into his traditional gender role boxes regardless.

Gender identity in a world without limits

The problem with gender roles for the secular mind, and in this case, gender-designated signs for the toy aisles at Target, is that they confine.

Anything that remotely suggests any type of “boundary” must go, because it limits the progressive nature of humanity—that we can forge our own path in the universe.

However, in the end, the secular ideology is a losing game because it does not work. It is untrue. There are fixed realities in the universe, and they do not change, even if our postmodern minds refuse to acknowledge them. And that’s a good thing!

After all God’s good design, which includes our gender, is not meant to restrict, but to enable us to flourish.

Again, if boys playing with nerf guns and girls playing with baby dolls are fixed realities, why is Grant so concerned about Target removing its labeling? And frankly, why would progressives working to allow each person to forge their own path be a problem? After all, if gender is mandated by these fixed realities, men will still step into protecting roles and women will still step into nurturing roles, even without society socializing them into those roles, right? If these are fixed realities, what is Grant so worried about?

Or perhaps gender roles are about restricting and confining. 

Ultimately, God has created boys and girls for more than toys. He’s created them for a purpose far greater than Mattel or American Girl Doll. He’s created every boy and girl for himself, to display his image and glory in the world. And he has created them as male and female.

And no Target sign can change that.

Actually, for all his focus on the American Girl Doll, I think Grant is missing something. Has he ever taken a moment to read through the historical books that accompany their original dolls, or some of the contemporary books accompanying their more recent dolls? The girls in these books—the girls the dolls represent—defy stereotypes far more often than they confirm them. They rescue abused horses, face bears, escape from slavery, and campaign against child labor. Those books are a whole not more about those girls protecting people than they are about them nurturing anyone. 

As for the bit about God creating each boy for himself, the way he wanted them, well, that sounds a bit like restricting and confining to me, for all Grant’s talk of flourishing. It also sounds a bit selfish. Some may imagine a God who cares more about letting individuals flourish individually than about pushing them into specific gender roles, but that’s clearly not the God Grant worships. Instead, he worships a God who cares very much about whether girls play with nerf guns or barbies.

Intrusive much? I’d say yes.

Meanwhile, I’ll be out enjoying my stroll by the Target toy aisle.

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