[Image: Two mesh bath sponges rest side by side on a blue background. The charcoal gray sponge has a tag reading “mesh sponge.” The lavender sponge has a tag reading “delicate mesh sponge.”]
Target recently announced a move to gender-neutral signage for some of their children’s products. While this is a welcome development for many parents and kids, the horrified responses from people can’t handle this kind of change are sadly predictable. One enterprising person posed as a Target representative and trolled their Facebook page, mockingly responding to and screencapping many comments from angry customers. Complaints of pandering to “political correctness” turned up frequently. Fox News, of course, also asked “Have the PC police gone too far?”
Here’s the thing. Gendering children’s products is flat-out ridiculous, and forcing children to only play with or wear “gender-appropriate” items has serious potential for harm. Trans author S. Bear Bergman has a great essay on raising his son amidst relentless gendering of everything from training toilets to prescription shampoo for lice. He and his spouse aren’t forcing their views of gender-neutrality on their son; they just want him to choose whatever makes him happy.
The idea that “pink is for girls, blue is for boys” is a recent phenomenon. I’ve seen no evidence that boys who wear pink or play with dolls turn out to be gay or trans any more than boys who wear blue and play with trucks. Clothes and toys do not have the power to change a person’s gender or sexual orientation. And of course, the implication that turning out to be gay or trans would be a bad thing is just ugly. Trans children especially need supportive parents.
Regardless, gender has no color. Look at the charcoal gray and lavender bath sponges pictured at the top of this post. The shelf tag for the gray sponge, and the receipt when I purchased it, read “MENS.” Heaven forbid a man use the wrong color sponge to scrub his manly ass in the shower. (I bought the lavender sponge for my male spouse, for the record. I hate pastels.)
While I can’t speak for Target, I myself do have a “gender-neutral agenda,” because I think that not just children’s products but nearly all products are pointlessly gendered. Eyeglass frames for example. The last time I shopped for them, I was happy to find a store that did not use gendered labeling at all; they merely grouped the products by brand.
As for clothing, I posted yesterday about men’s versus women’s pants. Here it does make more sense to have separate clothing sections, because most adult women have wider hips than men, amongst other differences in body proportions.
But these differences are not consistent even for cis people, and are reversed for most trans men and women. And any department that is separated into “men’s” and “women’s” erases nonbinary people. For clothing you might think “just shop in the department that matches your actual sex” but this is biological determinism. Many nonbinary people do not consider themselves to be male-bodied or female-bodied. (I myself was assigned female at birth, but am agender and male.) And being nonbinary does not imply any particular clothing choice, regardless of a person’s body configuration.
My agenda is not to eliminate gender completely, but to eliminate forcing the gender binary on everything: Clothing, accessories, titles, salutations, single-occupancy restrooms, and on and on and on. Gender-“nonconforming” people exist. Nonbinary people exist. Intersex people exist. Eliminating forced binary gendering will reflect and honor this reality, rather than erasing the real and valid identities and expressions of children and adults alike.