September 02, 2015

This Is the Rant I Was Going to Post on Facebook About Target's New Toy Aisles

When I was in kindergarden, I loved the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles. I'd spend many an afternoon in 1996 cursing that a-hole Shredder while reenacting my favorite episode with my TMNT action figures. I'd do this for hours, stopping only to eat a Push-Up pop or two after lunch.

Then it'd be back to work.

This was in 1996, before Facebook, when Caitlyn was still a Bruce, so I imagine that I got those action figures from an unapologetic binary gender aisle at Toys "R" Us. Maybe I noticed I was in the "boys" section, or maybe I was just thinking about the possibility of a Push-Up later.

I don't really remember.

But maybe I should have, at least according to this article in Time about Target's decision to remove gender-based signs. Because according to this article, being interested in a toy that I was told is "for boys" was probably utterly deflating for me. Liking a "boy toy" very likely made six-year-old me feel embarrassed and chastised for who I am. At least that's what the article says.

But in reality, I can't remember ever feeling that way.

Maybe it's just because I was lucky enough to grow up in an exceptionally loving family, who loves me as I am and didn't chastise me for liking action figures and soccer balls. Then again, it could have just been because, at six, this didn't seem like an issue. I didn't think that the "boys" aisle was offensive or demeaning, or challenged who I was as a person. To  me, it's just where the Turtles were.

I understand that I am lucky; the children (and adults) who are belittled, embarrassed, or scorned for who they are face a type of cruelty that I have little experience with. I sympathize with those people, but I'm not familiar with their struggle. Which is why my first reaction to Target removing "boy" and "girl" signs was positive, although a bit unenthusiastically so; it wasn't an issue I've dealt with but if it did save at least one person from some unnecessary suffering, I was all for it.

But since that first reaction, a lot of things have changed. Now, I don't feel any positive feelings toward this issue at all.

Because it's beginning to seem like whatever progress Target was making in helping create a more open, understanding society has been overshadowed by the five giant steps it feels like we're taking back. It doesn't feel like a girl who likes Legos is any better off now than she was before Target made this "bold" move.

Because since Target has decided to create "gender neutral" toy aisles, this debate has overwhelmed social media. And like online "debates" often do, they bring out the worst in people; those people who have the (to me, completely baffling) opinion that girls should be chastised for not being a proper "girl" now have a relevant current issue to voice this opinion on. And some people who probably didn't even have an opinion before this are suddenly enraged that Target no longer considers Barbies a "girl" toy. Because what good is Facebook if you can't give your extremely unhelpful but heated insight on every social issue you hear about?

And those who are for the gender unspecific Target toy aisles don't seem like they're doing Lego-loving Lauren any favors either; instead, it seems like they're providing her with another reason she should feel offended and mistreated.

Like the Time article pointed out, children are very aware of "cultural cues." And now, they're learning that something as ignorable as a "Boys' Toy Aisle" sign is actually an offensive, demeaning injustice that will do irreversible damage to their sense of personal peace. This isn't something to be ignored, like six-year-olds of Targets past; this is an issue that we have to fight to save our delicate psyche from those whose only goal is to tear us down.

Of course, there are still the people out there who are talking about the issue and not using it to create more hostility. I just feel like they're getting drown out.

To me, this whole thing had a lot of potential for good. And maybe it still does. I still think that a gender-neutral aisle could be a good thing if people stop using it as a means to make their hateful opinion relevant, or as another piece of evidencing proving that the world will always be "them" vs. "me." It'd be awesome if we could see it as one corporation's way of rejecting common stereotypes, and use it to get some helpful conversations going. Or at very least, see it as one corporation re-organizing their shelves, and leave it at that.

But then again, what kind of Facebook status would that be?

Obviously, this is a heated subject but I'd love to hear what you think. Am I totally off base? Or do you agree?