Several years ago, one of the largest American retail stores, Target, made a concerted effort to radically change the way they marketed some of their products. In a 2015 news release, Target Corporation announced they were ditching gender labels in some of their departments. They noted how guests had raised important questions, specifically, about some of the signage in Target that indicated product suggestions based on gender.
“In some cases, like apparel,” the statement read, “where there are fit and sizing differences, it makes sense. In others, it may not… in some departments like Toys, Home or Entertainment, suggesting products by gender is unnecessary.”
How were they going to accomplish this? Simple. They’d do away with gender suggestions on signs in some departments. After all, those things seemed to be antiquated relics in a society that was evolving and growing ever upwards in its quest to embrace a more non-binary construct of gender.
I remember the Target “gender desegregation” movement well; I was totally on board with it. As the mom of 3: a boy, a girl, and my youngest, who was a 9-year-old, self-described “gender creative boy” at the time, this movement resonated with me. None of our toys at home were gender segregated. My son would bring his army men and play Barbies with his younger sister, and sometimes she’d rather play with his toy guns than anything else in the world. And our youngest had no interest in typical “boys” toys whatsoever.
I was excited later that fall when I visited Target and saw it for myself. What was formerly “boys Legos” and “girls Legos” were now merged together, all neatly stacked in one unifying place. “Good,” I thought. “Good for them. Way to be progressive in a southern, red state.” I looked forward to revisiting this aisle when I’d start my Christmas shopping the next month.
But when I came back, I was perplexed to find no signs of the colorful, gender neutral Lego aisle. In fact, all the Legos were right back to how they appeared only a month earlier: sex-segregated. Fairy themed and soft pastel colored Legos were situated separately on their own aisle, while ninjas, shades of camoflauge, and dominant primary colors were a whole separate aisle over.
Whereas the boy-designated Legos offered options of superheroes, all sorts of vehicles, and entire build-your-own city sets which featured everything powerful from police stations to hospitals to fire brigades, the girl-designated Legos were called “Lego Friends.” Lego Friends featured curvy figures incompatible with traditional Lego figures, and invited female builders to create awesomely fun places like hair salons, pizzerias, garden pool parties and beach-scapes. It was sopping with sexism.
“Welp… that didn’t last long,” I thought. Not surprised, just a little dismayed.
I figured too many customers must’ve complained. Or maybe it was media backlash. Had a mega giant corporation like Target caved to the pressure of notoriously conservative news outlets like Fox and OAN?
At the time, Elisabeth Hasselbeck was co-hosting the Fox & Friends weekday news program, and they’d spent a whole segment that morning bashing the very idea. Hasselbeck, along with co-hosts Brian Kilmeade and Steve Doocy grew visibly more and more aggrieved over this story. There was plenty of gun and bible clutching as they speculated and frantically questioned the hypothetical what-ifs. Reporter on the scene, Alcides Segui, asked, in overstated alarm:
“Is this gonna confuse you? I know it’s gonna confuse me! (Ah-hahahaha!)”
During the “recap” portion of this report, Hasselbeck speculated that kids would end up “self sorting,” as she noted her own kids, who couldn’t read at the time, were able to find exactly what toys they wanted without any signs. But Kilmeade was not letting it go without a fight. You could almost see his hackles raise when he asked, with privileged paranoia:
“Who are they helping? The non-people that are upset by this? If you go in and buy a gift for a boy who’s nine or six, or a girl who’s nine or six, you wanna be able to go to that section and pick out a toy they might want. Now you have to sit there and look at a blended area and wonder, is this for a boy, or is this for a girl?”
Oh. My. God. How did I not see it?! He’s, like, totally right! Right?! I can now clearly see the problem here, and furthermore, I’m also convinced that confusion of this kind will be happening all the time from now on!
You know, it’s like — you’re in a hurry, trying to get in and out of Target quickly with a couple small toys for a couple 6 year old birthday parties your son’s attending this weekend. So you grab a handful of matchbox cars, some $10 gift cards, gift bags, and a couple grocery items for your family, and suddenly — “oh, shit!” You’re unloading your cart and panicking:
“How the hell did this Cinderella Shimmering Shoe Boutique end up in my cart?! Damn you, Target!! You and your PC genderless signage! It’s just too confusing!!”
Imean, come on. Seriously. We all know that some girls like “boys” toys, and some boys like “girls” toys. For some of these kids, it’s a quick phase, for others, not so much. Some are gender benders, some are regular ol’ cis kids, and some are trans. It doesn’t matter. They like what they like regardless of how much parents tell them “that’s not for little boys” or “that’s not very lady-like.” So why not just let them be kids and enjoy playing with whatever the f*ck they want instead of encouarging them to hear little voices in their heads chanting “Shame! Shame! Shame!?”
I’m going to assume Fox & Friends don’t do much shopping of their own, and maybe therefore weren’t aware of that magical little thing called the gift card. Or hey, here’s an idea: how about asking your little niece or nephew exactly what they want, and then finding it?
*Pro tip: Target store employees can typically be called on to offer assistance locating an item, if needed!
It all just seemed so dramatic. Like society had come to that point again where good ole ‘Murica was at a precipice, divided in equal thirds on this whole gender neutral concept: love it, loathe it, or couldn’t care less about it. Regardless, the reactions that followed this movement on social media and in the news were… um… robust, to put it lightly.
I frequently found myself sucked into the vortex of comments sections on various news sites, reading the same sentiments over and over again, and wondering the same things over and over again. Things like:
“Are there really people in 2015 that believed making toy aisles more gender neutral would cause catastrophic confusion?”
And the answer was a resounding “yes.” Yes indeed. There were. Plenty of them.
One comment in particular jumped out, and though it included a term I’d heard before, this time it just seemed particularly offensive. Inappropriate. Disrespectful. Ugly. Misogynistic.
It was posted by a male-identified person clothed in such thick camouflage it might as well have been a ghillie suit. Based off his profile picture, this man also appeared to have a zealous affinity for his right to bear arms. The comment he made was:
“Gender neutral toy aisles because someone might get offended? Here we go! Welcome to the pussification of America!”
I stopped and read it over again. And again. “The pussification of America.” The “pussification.” Of America. Why did this one phrase hit such a nerve? I wasn’t sure at first.
As far as I knew, George Carlin had coined the term “pussification” during his 1999 HBO special, “You Are All Diseased.” He used it when describing his horror of what had become of the American culture, and males in particular, specifically, in the form of “Harley Davidson theme restaurants.”
“Pussification” was also a term that made several guest appearances on social media before liberals were christened with the label “special snowflake,” eventually shortened to just “snowflake.”
Idon’t have to think too hard to remember “nicknames” given over the decades, out of sheer disrespect, to those who were assigned male at birth but were perhaps more gender non-conforming, or “feminine,” or perceived as gay regardless of whether they actually were or not, or possibly even trans females who were trapped in a male’s body. Hurled at them and meant to be taken as insults, names they got regularly called were among the likes of “sissy,” “fairy,” “pansy,” “queen,” “girly,” “soft,” “ballerina,” and so on.
These are lovely words, typically associated with or used to describe or refer to females. When putting a male into the same category with a female though, those lovely words become insults. Because what is the worst possible thing we can call a man? Basically, anything that reduces him to the status of a woman. (Think of the football coach calling his all male team a bunch of “little girls” when berating them after a bad play, as just one example.)
Basically, “pussification” has become one of the words used to punish those who don’t conform to the pre-authorized, blindly accepted cultural stereotypes, regardless of how wrong or outdated those stereotypes might be. And labeling American society with having a scourge of “pussification?” That is simply pushback from a patriarchal society, terrified of losing it’s long-held power.
Having our entire gender reduced down to our perceived genitals, and on top of that, equated with “weakness” or “inferiority” is the price we pay for admission into the cisgender, heterosexual man’s world. They may let us into the club, but boy are we gonna pay for it. It’s a vestige of the equal rights movement for women, a movement that apparently many men (and even women) are still fighting firmly against.
Why can’t we evolve out of this? How do we not catch ourselves and correct this language and its implications immediately?
It really is a shame. What’s tacitly endorsed by this mindset is that any efforts to evolve society forwards are just weakening and worsening our entire country, and furthermore, that those “inferior” things somehow add up to the resemblance of a woman. Imagine — the very woman who gave birth to each one of us — is she in any way inferior, weak?
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