UNITED STATES. California: California has become the first U.S. state to adopt a law that requires large retailers to provide gender-neutral toy sections.
The bill, signed by Governor Gavin Newsom on Saturday, will take effect in 2024. It says that retail stores with 500 or more employees must sell some toys and child-care products “outside of gender-labeled areas.” These must display “a reasonable selection” of toys and childcare items, regardless of whether they’ve been marketed for a particular sex.
Companies that violate the law will face a $250 (£184) fine for the first offence, and $500 (£368) penalties for others. The new law does not ban boys and girls sections in shops, so retailers can also choose to offer other toys and child-care goods in traditional boys’ and girls’ sections.
Assembly Bill 1084 promotes a gradual shift in the retail industry away from strictly marketing children’s products under traditional gender stereotypes, said Assemblyman Evan Low (D-Campbell), who introduced the legislation. Target dropped boys and girls toy sections in 2015, and other retailers have since moved away from gender-specific labels.
“Part of it is to make sure if you’re a young girl that you can find a police car, fire truck, a periodic table or a dinosaur,” Low said. “And then similarly, if you’re a boy and more artistic and want to play with glitter, why not? Why should you feel the stigma of saying, ‘Oh, this should be shamed’ and going to a different location?”
Low pointed out that the 8-year-old daughter of one of his staff members inspired the bill when the girl questioned why she had to go to the boys section to find certain toys.
“Children have a very unique way of saying things that provide some common sense,” Low said. “I think it’s important that we as a state are demonstrating our values of diversity and inclusion.”
“The segregation of toys by a social construct of what is appropriate for which gender is the antithesis of modern thinking,” said Low in a statement.
Campbell Leaper, a distinguished professor of psychology at UC Santa Cruz said that according to research into developmental psychology, children become aware of gender categories as early as age 3 and are very sensitive to gender-based labels.
“We know from a variety of different research once they have those categories in their heads and if you label something for girls or boys, children will often ignore it if it’s labelled for the other gender,” Leaper said.
However, in the last two years, similar bills to enforce gender-neutral commercial spaces have been shot down in California’s legislature.
Democratic lawmakers received criticism for so-called nanny state governing as the proposal moved through the Legislature this year, with detractors arguing that it infringes on free speech and government should not tell a private company how to organize or display its merchandise.