After intense pressure from Let Toys Be Toys, an organization working toward gender neutrality in toy marketing and creation, Toys "R" Us has decided to feature boys and girls playing with the same toys in catalogs. They will also stop labeling toy aisles "Girls" or "Boys" in stores in the U.K. Though clearly a step in the right direction, will it really be unclear to parents which areas are intended for girls and which for boys? Will the all-pink aisle become integrated with the army men/gun/Nerf aisle? If not, I'm not sure how this is anything other than a media campaign in itself.

After facing intense pressure from the U.K. organization Let Toys Be Toys, which urges toy retailers "to stop limiting children's imaginations and interests by promoting some toys as only suitable for girls, and others only for boys," Toys "R" Us in the U.K. has decided to stop labeling toy aisles "girl" and "boy" (Source). Further, beginning with their December 2013 catalog, children of both genders will be featured playing with all the toys.

girl building with legos

Obviously this is a step in the right direction. The tired images of girls amid forests of pink dolls, clothes, tutus, kitchens, strollers and houses (and let's not forget pink Legos! Because what's a girl to do with Legos that aren't pink?) need to go. The boys and the guns, sports equipment, army men, transformers, or my personal favorite, engineering/building sets (because we all know girls don't have the brains for that sort of thing!) — those need to go, too.

Setting sarcasm aside, Toys "R" Us' move is a big one, or at least it appears so at first glance. I have a few more questions though. First, if they "believe" in this cause, if it represents a real shift in mentality, why is it only happening in U.K. stores? What about the U.S.? I'm hoping it's just a one-continent-at-a-time situation as opposed to a let's-appease-this-U.K.-organization-that-won't-leave-us-alone situation.

Also, are they going to integrate the toys? Will they place Nerf guns and engineering sets next to doll beds and strollers?

Looking for real change

Or are they going to maintain the three-rows-of-pink, three-rows-of-blue/black arrangement? If so, what good does it do to withhold labels of "girl" and "boy?" I have a hard time believing anybody walks into Toys "R" Us even today and says, "Oh my, I just don't know where to go! Where's the girl section? Let's find a sign!"

young boy embracing baby doll

No, they probably walk along and look for the sea of pink. Or blue and black. The sign is rather superfluous, don't you think?

And that's really my point: This "change" by Toys "R" Us could really be no change at all. It could be one of those politically correct moves wherein we all know what's going on but call it something else because it's more palatable. (As you can see, I'm not a fan of the P.C.)

We're going to divide our stores according to gender, but we've removed the signs indicating a store divided by gender, so somehow we're different and improved and better. Yay!

I guess we'll see.

And in the end, does it really make much difference what a giant retailer does with their catalogs? Well, yes, I guess it does. Cultural and media messaging is powerful, and becomes working parts of our minds in ways we probably don't realize.

But what makes more of a difference (more quickly) are the messages we give our kids, the toys we buy, the chores and family contributions we ask them to complete (do you ever ask boy siblings to help take care of the baby? Do you ask your girl to take the garbage out?).

Do you ever ask boy siblings to help take care of the baby? Do you ask your girl to take the garbage out?

Because even if there are no gender-labeling toy signs, even if the aisles are mixed pink and blue and every color in between, it's up to us to decide what we buy our kid. If we walk up to the "girl" toys for our daughter without providing her the option for "boy" ones, what difference does it make whether or not the aisles are labeled?

If our boys find no dolls, kitchens or strollers in their play rooms, what good is a "gender-neutral" catalog?

We are the ones with the power.

It's our job to ask ourselves how we're using it.

More on gender

Gender-bending: When your son dresses like a princess
Teach your children to be flexible about gender
Coy Mathis, redefining acceptance by the third grade

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