Target Confuses Gender-Based Signage with Human Nature

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The most fun any of my kids ever had in a Target was in the women’s restroom. Let me explain. In the store near our home they have high-powered hand dryers — the kind that blow out 50 mph winds. As I put my hands under the air blast, it blew my aging skin so far you could count the bones. My daughter’s laughter echoed so loud in the restroom I was sure we were about to draw a crowd.

It’s not easy being an old mom.

The older I grow, the bigger the stores get. We have a “Super” Target in our area, which means I can get everything from one store. The draw is that it’s supposed to save time. But that’s nothing more than a marketing illusion. I end up making at least three extra laps around the monstrous thing trying to find everything on my list. You can double that number if I’m on the phone. Then I end up wandering aimlessly on auto-pilot. There inevitably comes the point when I stop and begin reading the signs to find my way.

Did you know that Target “suggests” products through their signage according to gender? Me either. I thought they were designed to help people like me find what we were looking for. Huh. Who knew? 


Right now, our teams are working across the store to identify areas where we can phase out gender-based signage to help strike a better balance. For example, in the kids’ Bedding area, signs will no longer feature suggestions for boys or girls, just kids. In the Toys aisles, we’ll also remove reference to gender, including the use of pink, blue, yellow or green paper on the back walls of our shelves. You’ll see these changes start to happen over the next few months.

We thank guests all the time for challenging us to get better at what we do and take the shopping trip to new levels. We’re always listening, and your thoughts and ideas help us make Target, your Target, a better place.

Apparently, Target’s purpose for signage is not to help get me through the store quickly. That, too, is an illusion. Otherwise, the milk would be at the front of the store, not the back. Of course, their goal is to keep me in the store for as long as possible so I will spend more money. I don’t fault them for that. However, the new levels they are trying to take me to are also a marketing illusion.

Target is branding itself with certain groups. Nothing more.

The Tampa Tribune explains that grouping items together by gender and color-coding them sends a message, that it “dissuades girls from picking up a G.I. Joe or discourages boys from selecting a pink comforter.”

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.

The idea that girls become better spatial problem solvers by playing with toys designed for a boy, and a boy will become a stronger nurturer simply by playing with dolls or wearing pink shows an astounding lack of understanding of human development, parenting, and the joys of childhood.

My little girls could create a family out of silverware. My two youngest boys grew up in a house filled with women, with a mother and six sisters (we wiped the estrogen off the walls). Still, they could fashion a gun out of a cracker with only four teeth.

There is one major mistake I see in this trend of neutralizing a child’s gender. While they are trying to improve what they see as a deficit, they seem fine with completely allowing the child’s natural strengths to languish. Toys are a wonderful tool in the hands of children to help them express their inner thoughts and dreams. They become a visual for what they are imagining themselves to become — when left alone.

I’ve watched little boys transform blocks of wood into shields and swords, and little girls tenderly love the ugliest, one-eyed doll as if it were a gift from heaven. Towels can dry a wet body or become a cape for a budding superhero.

In a family filled with boys and girls, there are all sorts of toys to play with. Children are free to pick up the toys of their choice and play together.

Buying stuff won’t help your children exceed their limitations, or enhance their natural strengths. If you really want your girls or boys to be better, enrich their lives with people — not toys from Target.

Gender-absent signage won’t open new doors to the future — it will just keep moms like me in the store longer.