What came first, the pink aisle or the pink packaging?
This past Friday, Target Corp. announced it was working “to identify areas where we can phase out gender-based signage.” The news appeared to signal an interest by the retail giant to move beyond the traditional pink and blue aisles that have defined American toy consumerism since… well, as long as anyone can remember.
It’s about time! In the age of Caitlyn Jenner — not to mention the daily opportunity to reflect on misogyny that is Donald Trump’s presidential campaign — it feels only natural that we move beyond the limiting constrictions of pink is for girls and blue is for boys.
Leadership from the major toy retailers and manufacturers has been hard to come by. Indeed, the loudest, most memorable commentary on the topic of boys vs. girls toys came from President Obama at a Toys for Tots event last December, when he put traditional "boys toys" into the girls toy boxes. After reviewing the gender qualifications of a tool kit, for instance, he decided to put it in the girls box. “What, girls don’t like tools?” he asked provocatively.
None of this is actually provocative, of course, but it inevitably goes through the ringer of the American culture wars (even though we’re fairly certain that any parent you asked would rank their child’s happiness significantly higher on their list of priorities than their child’s preference for blue, pink or any other color you want to throw in the mix).
With that context in mind, it is worth applauding the blow Target has struck for a toy section centered around play and individual happiness, rather than gender and conformity.
As ever, the really interesting bit is what happens next. Will other retailers follow suit, or will they double down on the conventions of yesteryear so as to become the “politically incorrect... and proud of it!” alternative to Target?
And how far will Target push its “identification” of areas it can phase out gender-based signage? The example given in their press release, about removing gender suggestions on bedding products, is a decidedly non-confrontational choice. Will it be so bold as to remove the pink and purple hues accompanying their Barbie or Frozen sections?
And what about the makers of those pink and blue packages on the shelves at Target Stores? If the backdrops to toy aisles are about to become less pink and blue, what do Mattel and Hasbro do with the SKUs they submit for those aisles' shelves?
It will be interesting to see! The moral arc of the universe is bending, people — but well more work is left to be done.