Shifting Gender from Noun to Verb

In Erica Hateley’s keywords essay “Gender”, she emphasizes how gender is no longer about biological sex and instead has turned into a verb meaning “come into being”. This supports the idea that while children may not be able to choose their sex, they are able to choose the gender they identify with. Target has come under fire recently when they decided to get rid of gender-based signage in their stores. For example, instead of labeling certain bedding for either girls or boys, their store aisles now just lists “Kids Bedding”. They have also eliminated references to gender in their toy aisles. The aisles were previously identifiable for a specific gender based on the color of the paper of the back of the shelves. They have got rid of the blue paper in the “boy” aisles and the pink paper in the “girl” aisles. This move emphasizes the changing genderization of toys. Dolls and princesses aren’t specifically for girls and race cars and superheroes aren’t only for boys. Target is agreeing with Hateley that gender does not mean biological sex and that children should be able to play with whatever they want without having color influence their decisions.

However, this idea of gender neutrality is relatively new. The idea of only girls playing with dolls is heavily present in the American Girl books. As the name suggests, these books are targeted towards girls and feature mainly only girl protagonists. Both Kirsten and Josephina treasure their dolls. Kirsten was very upset when she had to leave her beloved doll Sari behind. Josephina was also devastated when she thought the family’s doll Niña was lost forever. In Kirsten’s story, while the girls are playing with their dolls, the boys aren’t mentioned. They are presumably doing and playing with “boy” things. During this time period, dolls are seen as something specifically for girls and it would not be appropriate for boys to play with them. As seen in “Little House on the Prairie”, the Ingalls children used their dolls to pretend to be mothers. Their mom stressed the importance of being little girls and playing with dolls fit her standard. She most likely wouldn’t have approved of them playing with more “boyish” toys.

Over time, what gender can be defined as has shifted. It is no longer out of the ordinary to see boys playing with dolls or girls playing with trucks. It is important to let kids play with what they want without being influenced by other things, whether that is their parents, society, or the color of toy aisles in stores. Gender has transformed from a noun to a verb that allows children to be who they want to be.

Leave a Reply