TAMPA — Target’s move to eliminate gender bias from its toy aisles has drawn praise from many circles but is getting pushback from shoppers who prefer a more traditional shopping experience.
The retail giant has decided to remove gender-suggestive signs from certain areas, including home and entertainment. It also is peeling away the pink, blue, green and yellow paper that backs its toy-aisle shelves. Soon, there will not be any messages to dissuade girls from picking up a G.I. Joe or discourage boys from selecting a pink comforter.
The decision came two months after Abi Bechtel, an Ohio mom, posted a photo to Twitter of a Target sign separating girls’ toy building sets from other building sets. The photo went viral, with many commenters saying there is no reason to push boys and girls toward different toys.
The move, though, has sparked a backlash among some shoppers, who complain the department store has sacrificed practicality for political correctness.
On Tuesday, Julia Blair strolled the aisles of the Target on Dale Mabry Highway just north of Interstate 275. She said the changes to color panels and signs are unnecessary and confusing.
“I think pink has always been a girls’ color,” she said. “That doesn’t mean boys can’t wear it. The whole war on gender — I don’t really understand it.”
Blair said she began reducing the amount of shopping she does at Target when she saw stores replacing “Merry Christmas” with “Happy Holidays” on greeting cards. She said this is another step in the wrong direction.
“I feel like they’re taking a stand on an issue, and they shouldn’t push their political agenda on customers,” Blair said.
Kelsey Hedger, a regular Target customer, said the store’s move is “silly.”
“There’s certain toys that girls gravitate toward, and there are certain toys that boys gravitate toward,” Hedger said.
Company officials said the change was made because of customer feedback.
“We know that shopping preferences and needs change and, as guests have pointed out, in some departments like Toys, Home or Entertainment, suggesting products by gender is unnecessary,” a message posted on the company’s website says. “We heard you, and we agree.”
Molly Snyder, a Target corporate spokeswoman, said despite the changes, there will continue to be areas separated by gender, such as men’s and women’s and boys’ and girls’ apparel.
“Would you describe our stores as gender neutral? No, not at all,” she said.
Puneet Manchanda, chairman of the University of Michigan’s Ross School of Business, said many businesses around the world are switching to a more gender-neutral model, particularly in Europe. He said he thinks there will be minimal political backlash but said the move might make it more difficult for customers to identify certain products.
“I think it will be more of a pragmatic issue,” he said.
The changes have been praised by women’s rights groups and others.
Simone Marean is co-founder and executive director of Girls Leadership Institute, a national nonprofit organization aimed at helping girls learn skills that will prepare them for the future. She said the removal of gender labels opens new doors for all children.
“Their choices follow them throughout their lifetime,” she said.
She said girls can become better spatial-problem solvers from playing with toys traditionally geared toward boys, and boys who play with dolls can become stronger nurturers.
“I think this is an excellent step in the right direction,” she said. “It really opens up the possibilities both for girls and for boys in what they can play with, what they can imagine and, therefore, what they can be.”