Famous department store attempts to avoid gender stereotyping

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.

Diane DeBella

As a writer, teacher, and speaker Diane has spent over twenty years examining women’s issues. She is the author of the collective memoir *I Am Subject: Sharing Our Truths to Reclaim Our Selves*, and editor of the anthology *I Am Subject Stories: Women Awakening*. As a long-time faculty member at the University of Colorado, she received the CU Women Who Make a Difference Award and the CU-LEAD Alliance Faculty Appreciation Award. Through her organization I Am Subject, Diane helps us understand how we—as women—are impacted by the society in which we live. By claiming ourselves as subjects of our own lives, we become empowered and also provide strong role models for other women and girls. In healing ourselves we help others—a beautiful way for women to create nurturing, supportive communities.

This Post Has 3 Comments

  1. magnolialandaposas

    I am relieved to hear that small steps are taking place toward making an environment in which children have no restrictions to certain colors and toys, simply because of there sex. However, larger steps must be taken. The need for toys to change, such as the Barbie Doll, are also necessary.
    The unnatural proportions that the doll has, leads many young girls to perceive them as true beauty, which has often led to depression, anorexia and other health issues among young girls that attempt to fit the profile.

  2. chelseabeamer

    I personally disagree with the store Harrods and what they are doing with their merchandise. I feel like this topic is being way over thought and all of the work that goes into it is very unnecessary. For years it has been this way and it is just a fact that girls play with dolls and boys play with trucks. Of course it is not a bad thing if one gender plays with another gender’s toy, however, personal preference is generally chosen at a home and not a department store. I think that having toys categorized by gender is a great way for organization in stores. And of course for most people the toys are in the right category. It wasn’t until recently that there were so many transgenders issues and now people are getting way too personal with how stores are. It really doesn’t matter! This is how it’s always been and I believe that it should stay the same because it is working great. It’s not like department stores are going to start organizing clothes and shoes differently. Those have to be organized by gender too for obvious reasons. I think that organizing toys differently is a stupid idea and why would we choose toys and nothing else to change? It’s pointless.

    1. Diane DeBella

      People once said “this is how it has always been” in order to support segregation and racism. “This is how it has always been” doesn’t mean that it is right. Thankfully, societies and cultures grow and change, and hopefully evolve.

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