Today, we were at Target buying milk, eggs, baby food -- all the regular supplies. We also needed to pick up a birthday gift for a friend of Annie Rose's. Usually, I avoid the toy aisles like the plague when the girls are with me, or else I am besieged with requests for next year's holiday season, their birthdays, and every other gift-giving occasion.
Katie, whose birthday is in September, hit a new record in advance planning this year when it was October and she pointed out something that she wanted me to keep in mind for her next birthday.
Fortunately, today the girls were surprisingly not in an acquisitive mood as we zipped past the enticing toys, and we picked up a gift for a four-year-old girl easily. We headed toward the checkout. But then I wheeled my cart back around.
"Katie, look at the background behind the shelves of toys. What do you notice?"
The background behind the Star Wars figures, Legos, construction toys and cars was blue. The background behind the Barbies, kitchen toys, dolls, Disney princesses and dress-up clothes was pink. Here was gender-based marketing, and I explained it to Katie.
"The store has grouped toys that are traditionally for girls in the pink section and toys that are traditionally for boys in the blue section. So, if you are a girl who wants to buy a Star Wars Lego set, you are made to feel as if you are crossing into the "boys section" to get your toy. This is one of the reasons why the boys taunted you for carrying a Star Wars water bottle - you stepped outside of the box."
WalMart is slightly worse than Target, because they even have signs over the toy aisles that say "Girls" and "Boys," but the end result is the same - retailers are assigning a gender to toys.
Then I walked Katie over to an aisle that happened to be neutral. It was the aisle that contained gift wrap for all occasions. "What color is the background behind these shelves?" I asked her. "Yellow," she answered, and we talked about how yellow is for everyone.
"Why don't they have yellow or green behind all the toys?" she asked.
Yes, Target and WalMart, here it is out of the mouth of a young toy consumer:
Why don't you have yellow or green behind all the toy shelves?
Or white? Or red? We all know you chose pink and blue because those colors are associated with a gender.
Target and WalMart and other mass retailers have spent a ton of money on consultants who have helped them create toy aisles designed to maximize sales. There has been a (hopefully unintended) externality of the marketing campaigns. Gender-based toy marketing fosters teasing and taunting among children as young as toddlers.
Gender-based bullying is a reality in our country, and retailers have a responsibility to rethink the way they market toys.
It takes courage to try something different. But if you were an executive at Target or Wal-Mart, how would you feel if your son was crying because the other kids laughed at him for playing with a doll? What if your company could make some easy changes that would impact millions of kids?
Bullying prevention is a very difficult, multi-faceted process. There are no quick fixes and no magic bullets. But changing the color of the background in the toy aisles is some pretty low-hanging fruit. Please suggest it to Target and WalMart the next time you are there. Let's change the landscape and give kids a chance to choose for themselves which toy aisles they want to browse.