Britain’s world famous Harrods department store encompasses seven floors and 4.5 acres. Each year over 15 million customers visit the London landmark (Harrods). While Harrods has long been defined by its extravagant merchandise and eye popping price tags, the store recently made headlines for a completely different reason; it announced that it would no longer display its toys by rigidly defined gender roles. Instead, it chose to arrange its “Toy Kingdom,” which occupies 26,000 square feet, into six interactive worlds comprised of themes such as the Big Top and the Odyssey (CNN).
It has long been known that socially constructed gender differences are harmful. For those who do not conform, life can be miserable. Children who venture outside of what is perceived to be acceptable–either masculine or feminine–often face fierce bullying by their peers. Parents also struggle with how to raise children who exhibit likes and dislikes that don’t correspond to society’s view of their assigned gender. These narrowly defined roles also enforce oppression as they justify the exploitation of women: “as individuals act out gender norms and expectations in face-to-face interaction, they are constructing gendered systems of dominance and power” (Lorber).
Department stores have one main goal in mind when they separate toys by gender; they want to sell more of each product. They want to improve their bottom line; therefore, they aren’t concerned with the fact that they are reinforcing stereotypes. This isn’t to say that kids shouldn’t like certain toys or be drawn to certain colors. According to professor Deborah Tolman, co-founder of the girl-led activist movement SPARK, “Anxiety about gender has created codes that have nothing to do with how people should be people. There’s nothing wrong with pink. It’s the meaning we infuse it with” (CNN).
While Harrods’ decision to rearrange its toys by theme should be applauded, the store now needs to go a step further and redesign its website. The site continues to categorize toys by boy/girl designations. Toys for young girls include a fairy glam princess tea set, pink teddy bears, and lots of baby dolls. Toys for young boys include logiblocs, trucks, trains, and helicopters. So until this retail giant stops sending mixed messages, we should keep our applause to a minimum.