Leave the Toy Aisle Alone, Please

Leave the Toy Aisle Alone, Please

As a former legislative staffer in the California State Assembly, I often asked myself when reviewing legislation, “do we really need this bill?”

I asked myself the same question when I came across the introduction of a bill mandating gender-neutral toy sections in department stores.

Assembly Bill 2826 by Asm. Evan Low (D-Silicon Valley) is brief as far as legislative proposals go. Here are some of the main takeaways pulled directly from the bill language:

  • “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.”
  • “This bill would require a retail department store with 500 or more employees to maintain undivided areas of its sales floor where, if it sells childcare articles, children’s clothing, or toys, all childcare items, all clothing for children, or all toys, regardless of whether a particular item has traditionally been marketed for either girls or for boys, shall be displayed.”
  • “Beginning on January 1, 2023, the bill would make a retail department store that fails to correct a violation of these provisions within 30 days of receiving written notice of the violation from the Attorney General liable for a civil penalty of $1,000, as provided.”

Low told Politico that the idea behind the bill actually came from a question his staffer’s daughter asked about toys, “He said the idea came from one of his staffers, whose young daughter had asked why certain items she wanted were in an area designated for boys.”

With nation-leading housing, homelessness, and poverty crises, surely the California State Legislature has bigger problems on its plate these days than fixing how children’s toys are displayed in stores.

As a parent of a boy and girls, I love their curiosity and excitement. But I’m also not crafting public policy ideas from my kids.

Ask anyone who regular takes their kids down a toy aisle and they’ll tell you that toy aisles are not set-up by gender anymore. They’re usually organized by age or types of toys. For example, all the baby and toddler toys are clustered together, followed by Legos, then toys for popular kids shows or sports themes.

It’s also worth noting that no toy packaging or boxes I could find say boys or girls on them anymore. To be sure, I searched online and found that every toy I could think of only showed the recommended age range.

With nation-leading housing, homelessness, and poverty crises, surely the California State Legislature has bigger problems on its plate these days than fixing how children’s toys are displayed in stores.

California lawmakers get a sizable allotment of bills for the two-year session; 50 for assembly members and 40 for state senators. I’m willing to give lawmakers a break. Not every bill needs to be groundbreaking public policy. But I think it’s more than fair to put this bill under the solution in search of a problem label.

Since Assembly Bill 2826 was introduced last month, no committee hearing, or bill analysis has been released. Beyond Low’s reasoning in the Politico article, recent media coverage has shed little light on the need for the bill.

I came across a Duke University piece from 2018 that discussed the topic of toys and gender. One of the best lines from the piece, “If there’s one lesson that parents need to take home with them, it’s that you need to let your children play with the toys that make them happy.” Nowhere did it mention that we need a strategic rearrangement of department store shelves for kids’ products.

Changing the way toys are displayed at a store probably won’t stop the curious questions from kids on the age-old question of should kids play with certain toys. I think I speak for many when I say, please, leave the toy aisle alone.

Evan Harris is a media relations and outreach manager for PRI.

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Nothing contained in this blog is to be construed as necessarily reflecting the views of the Pacific Research Institute or as an attempt to thwart or aid the passage of any legislation.