In a groundbreaking move, major retailers in California will soon be required to establish gender-neutral toy sections for children. This new state law, set to take effect in the new year, aims to challenge traditional marketing methods that pressure children to conform to gender stereotypes.
Under the legislation signed into law by Governor Gavin Newsom in 2021, California-based department stores with 500 or more employees must create gender-neutral sections for “childcare items or toys,” regardless of their traditional marketing for boys or girls. The law defines “childcare items” as products designed to facilitate sleep, feeding, relaxation, or aid in sucking or teething, targeting children aged 12 and below.
Failure to comply with the new law could result in fines, with a $250 penalty for the first violation and a $500 fine for subsequent offenses. However, it is important to note that the law does not prohibit the existence of separate boys’ and girls’ sections.
LGBTQ advocates hailed this legislation as a significant victory, arguing that the separation of toys based on gender reinforces harmful stereotypes. By creating gender-neutral sections, retailers can allow consumers to compare products more efficiently and eliminate the notion that certain items are appropriate for only one gender.
Assemblyman Evan Low, who introduced the bill in the California Assembly, drew parallels between this legislation and other laws promoting gender equity. Similar to requirements for gender diversity on corporate boards and the implementation of all-gender signs on single-occupancy bathrooms, this law challenges the traditional categorization of children’s toys based on gender.
Critics of the bill, however, view it as government overreach and an infringement on free speech. They argue that activists and legislators should not be able to dictate the messages retailers convey about gender.
Research suggests that children as young as three can discern which toys are intended for boys or girls. However, once these categories are created, they often disregard labels that designate toys for the opposite gender. This understanding of children’s cognitive development informed Assemblyman Low’s decision to introduce the bill to destigmatize and allow children to explore their interests freely.
The introduction of gender-neutral toy sections is not entirely new, as Target eliminated gender-specific toy sections in 2015. Other retailers followed suit, recognizing the need to create a more inclusive and diverse shopping experience for children and their families.
This groundbreaking legislation in California is a significant step towards challenging gender norms and empowering children to explore their interests without predetermined limitations. By providing gender-neutral toy sections, major retailers are embracing a more inclusive approach to marketing and promoting a society that values diversity and individual expression.