This weekend Target announced that their toy and bedding departments would no longer be separated into “boys” and “girls.” Different color paper on the back of walls will no longer be used to suggest gender relevance. Progressive parents and gender equality advocates are hailing the move as the beginning of the end for stereotyping and forced toy conformity.
As a frequent Target shopper with a bit of an “organization” problem, I found this news alarming. Currently the superhero and spaceship toys are found in one aisle together. The princesses and fairies in another. This makes sense. I’ve been assured that this will continue. Dinosaurs and ponies will not occupy the same shelf space. Monster trucks won’t be mixed in with stuffed dogs. Order shall be maintained. Only the signs will be removed.
I’m the father of what a more unenlightened generation might have called a “tomboy.” Her current favorite toys are her Twilight Sparkle pony and her Paw Patrol bulldozer. On any given day she may be a teacher to a classroom of Barbies or a pirate captain searching for treasure. When given the choice she picked out a Sophia the First backpack, but would not be dissuaded from an Incredible Hulk bicycle helmet.
None of which should be overly surprising. Disney spent a ton of money acquiring Marvel and Lucasfilm as “boy” alternatives to their “girl” princess and fairy franchises, but anybody whose paid attention to their last few princess movies knows that these aren’t the Cinderellas and Sleeping Beauties of old. Alaina’s favorites are Brave and Frozen, both of which feature princesses that aren’t sitting around waiting for knights to rescue them. Princess Leia has her own comic book series and when Marvel relaunches all their titles next month, nine of twenty-nine “single hero” titles will feature a female title character. The line between “boy” and “girl” stuff has been blurring for a while.
All of this, of course, is easy to say when it is a daughter playing demolition derby with her matchbox cars. How would I feel if I had a son that enjoyed his sister’s hand-me-down dolls? I’ll say that I’m fairly confident that my feelings would remain the same. Especially at this age.
Here’s what I’ve learned from watching a four year old play: the toys involved don’t really dictate the action. Her Stormtrooper and Optimus Prime have long arms and are used primarily for carrying sick patients to the doctor. That doctor could be played by anybody from Shrek to an Octonaut to a Lego race car driver. The Batmobile gets most of it’s mileage making “special deliveries” and Spider Man spends more time slinging pizzas than he does webs.
Everybody had stories about their kids setting aside expensive toys and playing instead with the box they came in. As she gets older her toys may hold more relevance towards whatever she’s playing, but for now they are the vessel for her imagination, not its instigator.