California’s Assembly is slated to consider a new bill requiring department store childrens’ sections to be largely “gender-neutral” in order to combat “prejudice” and “judgment” against gender non-conforming children.
“Large retailers that sell toys, clothes, and other children’s items in California would have to devote floor space to merchandise marketed to both boys and girls under a new bill,” Politico reported earlier this week. “Stores would be able to sell the same products they do now as long as they maintain some areas where shoppers can find all toys or clothes, regardless of gender-based marketing, under CA AB2826 (19R) from Assemblyman Evan Low (D-Campbell). It would apply to department stores with 500 or more employees beginning in 2023.”
Lowe told Politico that the idea for the bill, which he also introduced last year to little effect, came from one of his staffers, who claims her daughter wanted an item in the “boys” section but felt slighted because she the toy was designated for a male child.
“This is an issue of children being able to express themselves without bias,” Lowe told the outlet.
“Keeping similar items that are traditionally marketed either for girls or for boys separated makes it more difficult for the consumer to compare the products and incorrectly implies that their use by one gender is inappropriate,” the text of the bill notes.
Last year, after Lowe pulled the first version of the bill, he said he was determined to push forward with the issue a second time because “the policy behind this bill is not only important in regards to addressing perceived societal norms but also ensuring that prejudice and judgment does not play a prominent role in our children’s lives.”
California retailers are currently struggling to stay in business, according to local news reports, after being shuttered during the COVID-19 pandemic. Currently, stores in California are able to operate only at 25% capacity, ostensibly in order to slow the spread of the novel coronavirus.
“The bill comes amid a growing backlash to gender-specific toys and clothing. Groups such as the international Let Toys Be Toys campaign argue that such merchandise perpetuates entrenched gender stereotypes and can make children feel shame if they don’t conform to them,” Politico said. “Target in 2015 announced it would stop its gender-based labeling of toys under pressure from consumer advocates.”
Libertarian-leaning outlet Reason Magazine, though, noted that, although the trend may be towards more gender-neutral displays, the new bill would rob retailers of agency in selecting that option for themselves. As Target noted when it made its decision, not every toy or item of clothing can be classified as “gender-neutral” because there are “fit and sizing differences” that make full gender neutrality in a retail environment difficult.
The bill would certainly have economic consequences — stores would have to spend money to update their displays to come into compliance with the new regulations — and, Reason points out, there could be First Amendment issues as well.