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Email to all the merch people in my department

Hi everyone,

It’s my last day today, as far as Beeline tells me. I wanted to point out that a lot of my work these past 4 months has involved deciding if a toy is for “Boys” or “Girls” based on archaic, 1950s gender roles that are not relevant to today’s society. Seeing women at Amazon discuss as much on the amazon-women email lists re-emphasizes that my thinking is not wrong, or too progressive for retail.

Our rules for assigning gender to toys are so archaic, it makes me quite sad. Anything plush is for girls, anything babydoll is for girls, anything vehicular or engineering or science is for boys, unless its pink. Toy stoves and kitchens are for girls, according to Amazon, even if the manufacturer is marketing them unisex. I don’t know who to talk to about this so I’ve emailed everyone I’ve talked to who is involved in toys merchandising decisions. I do hope Amazon becomes more progressive in regards to its non-fact-based gender labelling (that does not appear on site in so many words, but does appear in sales guidance and the Holiday Toy List, for example), and that going forward Amazon is not part of the problem that discourages women from science and engineering and math, and discourages men from child rearing and fundamental life skills like cooking and cleaning. It’s time to enter the 21st century seeing as Amazon is a forward-thinking tech company. I think many customers would thank us.

Subject: Let toys be toys – non gendered toys in stores

In UK and Ireland there is a movement asking retailers to stop limiting children’s interests by promoting some toys as only suitable for girls, and others only for boys.

This is important (I think) to stop dividing women and men by fake assumptions of interest..How can we expect more women in STEM if we identify certain toys as not for them..

They are starting to show up in news articles.


2 comments on “Email to all the merch people in my department

  1. browse
    December 31, 2013

    I hear ya; trying to assign arbitrary genders for various toys would annoy the hell out of me too. But I struggle with finding specific, actionable things I would want Amazon to be doing differently. Based on your experiences over the past few months, what specific changes do you think Amazon should be making?

    – Drop the “search for toys for boys/search for toys for girls” feature completely? I worry that cuts close to Amazon’s raison d’être, helping you search for the exact thing you’re looking for. Sure, the gender definitions they have are arbitrary and often silly. But if I’m looking for Barbie, I know exactly where to look.

    – Instead of a binary “boys/girls” distinction, subdivide toys into general categories (board games, cars, cooking, dolls, action figures)? Ugh, for that matter, WTF’s the difference between a doll and action figure? Once upon a time, Barbie had a Wonder Woman-themed Barbie. What category does that go in? Sigh.

    – Create a third category of “unisex toys”? I think I like this solution best of all, but it’s still expecting someone to make some pretty arbitrary decisions about what goes in which category.

    As an idealist, I agree the status quo sucks rocks. As a realist, I’m struggling with figuring how to evolve the status quo in a reasonable fashion.

  2. Comixxen
    January 1, 2014

    Do you thnk there should be “Search for toys for black kids” and “search for toys for white kids?” Probably not, even though there’s some marketing-research-based-differences, because that’s RACIST. Just like searching by sex is sexist. That being said, they DO have a unisex category, and I asked if I could put certain non-gender-based legos, cars, and k’nex kits in unisex insteead of ‘boys’…the answer was no. I asked if I could put blue plush babydolls clearly marketed for boys having younger siblings coming, in unisex instead of girls…the answer was no. I asked if I could put the new not-pink unisex EZ bake oven in unisex instead of girls since it was literally being marketed to boys and girls…the answer was no. It’s totally fucked up there and I doubt you can do a single thing about any of it. Keep in mind this wasn’t some bigwig marketing guru telling me this. It was a poor low-end shmuck who lost the game of “tell the contractors what to do” hot potato. It’s people not knowing their shit, all over, people getting decision-making positions for reasons not related to marketing savvy or technical ability, no kind of answerability or cross-company communication for any of it, as far as I could find out in my collective 15 months there. If you think there’s rhyme or reason to the things I was assigned to do in my untouchables-job, you are sadly mistaken.

    I don’t plan to change the corporations, to appeal to their sense of fairness and progress. They’re not in the business of making the world a better place, or of listening to their low-end employees. I doubt my email will make a difference, but I felt better for saying something, and being silent would make even less of a difference. I plan to protest, to speak out, to make a cool comic about this industry in general, and send it to the press. I plan to make changes by talking openly about my experiences and what I think is fucked up. They are changing things via protest and press in the UK, and I wonder if we have a chance of doing the same thing here.

    Keep in mind that Magic Mouse Toys doesn’t have a ‘boys toys’ and ‘girls toys’ section…because they love children and they love toys. It’s not just about money for them. I’d like to see American culture changed enough in my lifetime that even giant corporations understand that being sexually regressive hurts the bottom line, not helps. Black kids vs. white kids toy searches might drive up sales purely statistically speaking, but they can’t do that because its fucking awful and everyone knows it.

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This entry was posted on December 30, 2013 by in Career, Feminism, Snark.
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