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Sept. 3, 2015

Boys can play with dolls, too

by Maniza Habib, Online Managing Blogs Editor & Online News Editor
It all started with a tweet.

Abi Bechtel, a concerned mother and shopper, noticed an aisle that differentiated "building sets" and 'girls' building sets" while shopping at Target on June 1. She sent out a tweet that read, "Don't do this, @Target", attached with a picture. It received over 3000 retweets and favorites. Others started complaining as well. Target took notice and responded.

Last Friday, Target released a statement on their website announcing the removal of gender-based labels on home, entertainment, and toy products. Organizing products by gender is unnecessary, as gender doesnít dictate a personís interests. Gender is simply a social construct.
2 months ago, Abi Bechtel tweeted this photograph, with the caption, "Don't do this, @Target".  Courtesy of Courtesy of Abi Bechtel
2 months ago, Abi Bechtel tweeted this photograph, with the caption, "Don't do this, @Target".

Critics of Target's decision are quick to defend the sacredness of gender and its position in society, but gender is a concept invented by society. Chris Woolston, a health and medical writer, writes that girls and boys are born with different brains, therefore have different behaviors, personalities, and interests. Cordelia Fine, author of "Delusions of Gender," explains that it is true that there are slight variations in the brains of men and women, but nothing major. These biological differences do not account to any key behavioral differences between men and women.

In reality, society implicates stereotypes on gender, pressuring people to act and think a certain way. Not all girls love kitchen sets and not all boys love sports, but the way we view the genders has taught us otherwise. This change will help in reforming the role of gender and sex in child development.

Gender and sex have separate definitions altogether. Sex is a characteristic of a person in reference to the reproductive functions, while gender is a characteristic of a person in reference to their social and cultural roles in society. Sex is strictly a biological term but when you add gender to the mix, you add all sorts of social implications. Without unnecessary labels, we are free to be whoever we want to be.

Moreover, separating products by gender can even be harmful to a child. Children should not have to learn to act a certain way based on gender constraints. To tell a child they can't play with a certain toy because of their gender can be deflating by suppressing their personality. American Association of University Women explains that when stereotypes are taken as fact, it becomes harmful in society. They write, "Stereotypes and biases serve to unfairly and sometimes unintentionally keep qualified, capable people out of jobs or positions of power."

The idea that the societal gender structure guides children to develop a sense of identity is completely false. For most children, gender identity aligns with their biological sex, but this is not true in all cases. Children do not need a specific identity based on their gender. Studies show that teaching children fixed ideas about gender can be detrimental to their physical and mental health.

Even before the 90s, segregating toys by "boy" and "girl" did not exist. "The marketing of toys is more gendered now than even 50 years ago, when gender discrimination and sexism were the norm," sociologist Elizabeth Sweet writes in an article for "The Atlantic". In these modern times where stay-at-home dads are a common sight and sexism is not such a blatant norm; the comeback of gender specific toys is a bad move.
Target to remove gender-based signs in stores across the country. Courtesy of NBC News
Target to remove gender-based signs in stores across the country.

Target's decision is a step in the right direction towards breaking down gender barriers. As America's second largest general merchandise retailer, an action like this is not going to go unnoticed. The domino effect will be significant. But, more can still be done to eliminate gender stereotyping.

Lately, marketing has relied less on blatant sexism, and focuses more on subtle gender cues in the products. Target's announcement makes an attempt in tackling these subtle gender constraints, but we need to further work on progressing towards a gender-neutral society, where a kid can be a kid.

This is only the start to a healthy, cultural shift. Completely eliminating these gender typed divisions will help kids and adults learn that gender is not a defining characteristic. Manufacturers need to get rid of labeling on the products themselves. Advertisers need to remove stereotypes from their commercials. We need to tell ourselves that 'girl' and 'boy' interests do not exist. If a boy wants to play with Barbie dolls, he should. If a girl wants to play with building blocks, she should. Because we should live in a world where here are no "girl toys" or "boy toys," only "toys".



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  • Agree With Everything But... on September 4, 2015 at 3:49 PM
    "Gender is simply a social construct."

    No? Gender is definitely a real thing. Maybe what gender you identify as doesn't match the gender of your body parts, but gender definitely exists.
    • Unclear on September 5, 2015 at 1:27 PM
      I think the author is being really unclear. She's trying to differentiate between gender and sex - gender being social and sex being biological.
      • Parent on September 6, 2015 at 2:52 AM
        I think it's pretty clear, the idea is that gender is made up by society based on sex, which is a biological and from birth. Not to say that gender doesn't exist, but that it exists because it's made up by society?

        Nice article, progressive. When you're forced to act a certain way by society, it can be very confusing for a child. Insecurities develop from being forced or pressured to act a certain way, and although changing the shelves isn't the biggest step that can be made, it's evidence of changing.
        • Unsurprised on September 7, 2015 at 12:31 AM
          "Nice article, progressive."

          Haha. Show me the last time Silver Chips published a moderate-to-conservative opinion piece.
          • true^ on September 7, 2015 at 9:35 PM
            true but like maybe that says something yo
            • Mrs. Johnson (View Email) on September 16, 2015 at 9:03 AM
              Amen sister! preach
        • A Cynic on September 10, 2015 at 8:15 AM
          If gender is a social construct based on sex, then why do some people feel that they are not their biological sex? There is definitely an instinctive gender identity, in addition to the one that society creates. Though I do agree that society places way too much emphasis on gender, and that we shouldn't force gender roles onto anyone, let alone children with developing minds.
  • Karen, aka a parent on September 7, 2015 at 10:45 AM
    This is outrageous. I was disappointed in target and I am disappointed in America. Girls and boys are different. Who are you to challenge that?
  • heck yeah on September 22, 2015 at 5:15 PM
    gender is a social construct!
  • anon on October 22, 2015 at 9:13 AM
    How about this; Children are too young to make the judgement that they are boys or girls, and therefor we should continue to give them gender roles? If a person is under 18, they are not allowed to give consent to the hospital for a treatment, a practice which has lots of research put in to it. The role of a parent is to make sure a child is supposed to get through the early years of their life as safely and securely as possible while still having openness, but children are going to have serious issues if their parents won't explain if they are a boy or girl. This kind of openness leads to fear and possible depression.
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