How Target accidentally became a leader in the post-gender revolution

Kids will be kids, not “boys” or “girls” — at least at Target.

After receiving some very direct feedback from customers, the retail giant has just announced a plan to do away with signs labelling store sections on the basis of gender.

Back in June, Ohio mother Abi Bechtel called out the company on Twitter for having two gendered signs above a toy aisle: “Building Sets” and “Girls’ Building Sets.”

Her complaint spread like wildfire, triggering nearly 3,000 retweets.  

Shortly afterwards, a Target spokesperson told The Daily Dot that the signs only made it easier for shoppers — often pressed for time — to quickly find what they were looking for.

But now, two months later, Target has announced that it will remove any references to gender in the labels in its home and entertainment departments, such as those in “boys’ bedding” and “girls’ building boxes.” It will also get rid of pink, blue, yellow, or green paper that covers its toy shelves.       

Gender differences are hard to miss at retail stores.

Whether it’s clothes or toys, most departmental stores have clear-cut signs that take you in different directions based on gender. You’re often blinded by shades of pink in the toys’ section for girls — but good luck finding a pink romper for your baby boy.

However, retailers are starting to question traditional gender roles — and some fashion designers are moving past gender altogether. 

While Target may only be carving out a gender-neutral retail space to keep customers happy, some stores have gone a step further. 

Last year, Lands’ End tweaked its 
science-themed t-shirts for girls in response to a mother’s post on 
Facebook. Lisa Ryder wrote that all her science-loving nine-year-old daughter could find in the girls’ clothing section were “sparkly tees with rhinestones, non-realistic looking stars, and a design featuring a dog dressed like a princess and wearing a tutu.” The boys’ section, on the other hand, had t-shirts with life-like images of solar system, diagrams of sharks and dinosaurs, and a “NASA Crew.”

But Lands’ End only created more designs for girls; it did not drop separate categories for “girls” and “boys.” This brings back Target’s earlier argument to mind: that keeping gender-specific categories for some sections makes shopping easier.

Taking the risk to cut across gender lines completely could turn out to be good for business. In fact, it could be seen as a new kind of retail opportunity, according to market researcher NPD Group
. Half of millennial Americans believe that gender shouldn’t be limited to male and female, according to an e-book by NPD. It makes sense, then, for retailers to start thinking of shoppers as “more than just male or female,” explains the e-book. 

One company is already making waves in the genderless fashion market. 

British department store Selfridges revamped its menswear and womenswear sections in favour of a “gender-neutral” space across three floors in March this year. It branded its redesign — called “Agender” — as a campaign intended for shoppers who don’t like to be restricted by their gender while choosing what to wear. 

The rethink by Selfridges and Target says a lot about how retail store designs have shaped — and are shaped — by our ideas about gender.

As more and more people are choosing not to restrict their identities to gender, the way we shop could be in for a change.  

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