An Inviting Children’s Section For All, Fred Meyer

After writing about Target’s failure to invite my daughter into their children’s section, many questioned, among other things, how a store could sort toys in the traditional manner, limited by the toy manufacturers. Several called for a look at the manufacturers, not the toy stores. They failed to grasp the most important part of the article:

Target failed to keep its word when I knew there was a way.

My little princess has a very different feel for Target than she does for another toy section, one in our local Fred Meyer. So today, I am looking at why Fred Meyer invites my daughter deep into its “boy” section. So I walked through the toy section, with one rule, I could not touch anything. I had to see the invite where my daughter did, with my eyes.

There are two differences I saw between the stores. The obvious one, the size of the toy section, ended up taking a back seat to the very subtle one, inclusiveness. Further, the lack of a third, different section breakout, is equally interesting. Which brings up the key question:

If Fred Meyer and Target have the same section break out, one probably required by the toy manufacturers, how does Fred Meyer bring inclusiveness into its toy section?

A close look at the toys showed a possible answer to this question.

A quick look shows that the layout is similar, though slightly different. Half an aisle is given over to a mixed toy selection. The Lego Kits are still separate from the Lego Friends. The cars are still by themselves. They still have a pink section. The action figures still away from the pink section.

blue and pink ailses
Fred Meyer Toy section. The “girl” aisle is still pink. The “boy” aisle is still not pink. And yet, they both invite my daughter into them. Copyright Claire Jennings

This perplexed me, why the difference in acceptance. Maybe the smaller size, and having the gender-neutral toys in the middle? That seemed unlikely. Then I started looking at the toys. And something caught my attention in the action figures section, Spider-Woman.

Marvel
In the middle of the superheroes is Spider-Woman, standing tall. Copyright Claire Jennings

It is possible that my little girl, who has been in full-time childcare since she was three months old, and last year, had another child bring his dad’s beliefs that boys are smarter and better than girls into the classroom (which was counteracted both at her school and our home once we realized), would pick up on this small difference, give her personality.

At this point, I made a rule, I could not touch the toys to rearrange the diversity more visible, but could I find gender diversity in all of the Fred Meyer toy section?

As it turns out, I could. Below, you will see pictures taken of all their sections, with comments.

Babies 2
Gender Neutral Baby Dolls. Copyright Claire Jennings
Babys
Boy Baby Dolls. The baby doll section had a wider range of gender representation than most of the traditionally gendered sections in the store. Copyright Claire Jennings
Books
The book section within the toys was very mixed, with traditionally boy and girl books sitting side by side in every shelf – still organized, but inviting exploration. Copyright Claire Jennings
Monster High Dolls
The Monster High dolls in the girls section sports both genders almost evenly. Copyright Claire Jennings
Cars
The car section has always pulled my daughter in. Here, options for anyone to role play with BatGirl, BatMan, Snickers, and Dove. Copyright Claire Jennings
Disney
The Disney Princess selection includes many on the Disney Princes as well. Copyright Claire Jennings
Dragons and Ferries
Knights and Fairies, Unicorns and Dragons. Just a few of the animals gathered together. Copyright Claire Jennings
Games
Almost none of the games where gender targeted. The few I found sat side by side. Copyright Claire Jennings
Ken
Ken made just a few appearances in the Barbie section, randomly spread out within it. Copyright Claire Jennings
Lego Friends
Lego Friends set away from the Lego section, most likely due to Lego guidelines, as this is true with all stores I have seen. It is surrounded by pink of the pink section, and, oddly, some dinosaurs. Copyright Claire Jennings
Legos
Most likely due to guidelines from Lego, there are no Lego Friends or Lego Elves in the Lego Sets section. Instead, Fred Meyer included a large MegaBlock Monster High section right in the middle of the Lego section, next to the Lego Star Wars section. Copyright Claire Jennings
Mario
Peach is one of three Mario Brothers figures in the action figures section. Copyright Claire Jennings
Paint
Star Wars crafts and Toy Solders share space in a traditionally girl-themed craft section. Copyright Claire Jennings
Peeta
Peeta and a Ken doll are surrounded by mermaids and Barbie dolls. This is the only Hunger Games figure I could find, mixed into the pink aisle instead of the action figures. A closer look shows that Peeta is a Barbie collection doll. Copyright Claire Jennings
Puzzle 1
The puzzle section is organized more by skill level, than by picture theme. This section of 42 piece puzzles provides a wide array of themes to choose from. Copyright Claire Jennings
Puzzle 2
The adult puzzles intermix with no clear organization. Copyright Claire Jennings
Stuffed Animals
My Little Pony and Star Wars anyone? The stuffed animal section has something for everyone, with two gendered products that often pulls at the other gender next to each other. Copyright Claire Jennings

The amount of women in the action figures or men in the Barbie section was small, but, it was displayed on the top layer, visible to anyone who pays a bit of attention.

The Monster High section taking up the middle of the building kits starkly contrasts that of Target, where my daughter turned into the building kits section and saw what she’s been told at school are “boy toys.” In Fred Meyer, she understands that she is allowed to enjoy these toys, all of them.

It is the only thing I could see that was really different. It seems to me, this small little difference said to my girl “you are welcomed here.” She saw herself included.

Yet, it did not take away from the people who traditionally went into the section, and feel strong that there needs to be a pink section or a blue section.

I do not know if Fred Meyer makes an effort for diverse toys, or if the smaller selection makes it easier for them but eliminating similar toys in their selection. Either way, as the Star Wars toys show, the toy makers determine the toys being made. But they don’t have the final say to what toys appear on a given store’s shelves.

Within this selection, stores can and should try for the best mix of toys they can. After all, even if it is just a few girls buying Lego Space or boys buying Easy Bake Ovens, these purchases expand a store’s potential market, leading to more sales overall.

Could the answer to opening up the toy section across gender lines really be so simple? Even without much help from the toy makes, as long as a few of the toys included boy baby dolls and girl action figures, would it be enough? Probably not by itself. This small seeming change is a step in the right direction, possibly a bigger step than you would think.

What do you think? Tell us in the comments below.

A programmer at heart, Claire Jennings spent the first seventeen years of her career as a software development engineer before joining the ranks of management. She spent eight years of her career in the video game industry, learning how virtual worlds are put together. Now a mother of a four-year-old daughter, she and her husband strives to help children understand how to control the technology that runs through every thread of their lives using her knowledge gained while in the video game industry.