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New Years Resolution #2: Give My Kids A Chance

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In 2012 I will…

Break up with Target.

I am what a close friend has termed a “closet hippie.” I seem pretty normal in that I don’t smoke pot or make music for a living, but I do make my own deodorant, wash my hair with baking soda and get my produce straight from the farm. One of the happy side effects of these lifestyle choices is that our home is almost completely free from advertising. I didn’t set out with such a lofty goal in mind, but I love that we’ve moved in what I consider to be a very healthy direction and want to do more to actively promote the ideal of creating an advertisement-free space for my children (and myself!).

With this in mind, I spent the last week analyzing my normal purchases and routines to find ways to eliminate our exposure to ad campaigns. I discovered some things that took no time at all: I removed some package labels and repackaged a few products, dealt with the backlog of spam in my inbox and sent some credit card applications back to the sender unopened.

My media filter is not as watertight as I’d like it to be, however. I realized while doing this exercise that the biggest source of advertising exposure for my family is one-stop convenience shopping. Out of diapers? Run to Target. Need wrapping paper? Run to Target. I’ve even been known to take my kids to Target just to kill time; it’s close to our house and they have Icees, what can I say, I’m a sucker for anything vaguely resembling a snow cone.

Sadly, I’m going to have to get my colored sugar water fix elsewhere from here on out, and this is why: my kids are not for sale. Yes, it is helpful to be able to grab a bag of string cheese, a swim suit that fits, a gift and wrapping paper all at once on the way to a pool party, but I need to think about what I am I giving up in return. Why is it worth it to Target to create this convenience experience for me? What are they getting out of it?

They are getting a captive audience. And what kind of a performance are they putting on for us?

From an adult’s perspective, I noticed that our local store is organized by gender:

[Edit: this made perfect sense to me when I posted it at two in the morning. Looking at it now, I think it could use further explanation.

This is a map I made of my local Target. I’ve colored it based on gender: pink is for women, blue is for men, yellow is gender neutral, and green is the kid area. The cleaning products have a ban of fuzzy pink tacked on because the first third of each isle is devoted to products like ylang ylang scented candles and Method’s “spa” themed cleaning products in an obvious grab for female attention.]

You’ll notice that the store is also set up so that dad can browse around when he’s left to watch the kids in the toy area while mom does the shopping. This is ingenious, and shows you just how much thought goes into planning the layout of a store. Corporate isn’t leaving this stuff up to chance.

Grating sexist stereotyped layout aside, however, what are our kids seeing in the toy section? What kinds of messages are they being fed while we check boxes off our shopping lists?

I spent a full evening going through Target’s toy section both in store and online, and I’ve got to say, it isn’t all bad. They carry some cute vintage-inspired baby toys, Schleich animal figurines, fun things that I might consider purchasing if I weren’t utterly paranoid about toxic paints, etc.

However, not all bad is a far cry from what I want for my kids.

Let’s take a look at the boy’s section (the toy department is divided into three sections, boys, girls and babies):

This line of talking robot trucks combines all boys’ love for anything with wheels with their well-known love for farts.

(Who looks at these toys and thinks, “Yeah, I’d love to share my living space with that thing?”)

Legos + ninjas + skulls + trucks = popular toy for boys. Right?

This one really upset me. This is a bank toy that allows little boys to begin to explore the inner workings of the financial industry. It is marketed specifically to boys and I couldn’t find a similar product marketed to girls sold anywhere.

And it just goes on when we get to the girl toys:

Because only girls cook, and they only like to cook sweets, and only with color-coordinating girly girl kitchen tools.

Would you let that woman babysit your child?

I take it back, I’d hire Barbie to babysit over these kids any day. I wonder how long it will take for companies that cater to children to realize that eating disorders are not cute.

And finally, I saved my favorite for last. Take your time on this one…it just keeps getting better as you stare at it.

Bike.

Pink bike.

Pink bike with sparkly streamers.

Pink bike with sparkly streamers, decorated with a smorgasbord of Disney princesses.

Pink bike with sparkly streamers, decorated with smorgasbord of Disney princesses, with a baby carrier attached to the handlebars.

Pink bike with sparkly streamers, decorated with smorgasboard of Disney princesses, with a baby carrier attached to the handlebars, that comes with a doll baby.

Pink bike with sparkly streamers, decorated with smorgasboard of Disney princesses, with a baby carrier attached to the handlebars, that comes with a doll baby THAT IS WEARING A TIARA.

(Go ahead and double check, I assure you, it’s there.)

This bike literally has everything but the kitchen sink.

People have argued for years about whether Barbie is actively causing young girls to develop unrealistic body image expectations or if she is just a doll that people like to use as a scapegoat when they find out that their daughter has an eating disorder. I’m not prepared to take a stance on that debate, because I simply do not buy mass produced toys like Barbies because I don’t trust major corporations to keep my children safe from toxic chemicals (not to mention the ethical question of labor practices).

This kind of stuff puts the debate into a new context, however. We are no longer talking about simple toys that you play with and then put away, we are talking about every goddamn thing a girl touches from day 1 until she enters 7th grade and discovers black eyeliner, body hatred and depression. It’s not just cute and pink and sparkly. They piled every stereotype they could think of about women onto that one tricycle, so that every time your little girl goes out for a bike ride she will get to think about princesses, sparkles, being pretty and being a mommy all at the very same time! You wouldn’t want her to get distracted from the all-important yummy mummy mantra by the bike and start thinking about, say, exercise, being healthy, building strong muscles, developing her endurance, or fostering a desire for healthy competition, would you? Or would you?

And if you do want her to be thinking these other kinds of thoughts, how are you going to make that happen when major corporations with vast, unprecedented piles of money at their disposal are actively pulling your kid in the other direction?

You opt out, whether you like it or not.

So, there you have it. Hello 2012, goodbye running all of my errands in 45 minutes one day a week. I plan to do a lot of my shopping online in the future so that my kids will not be a part of the shopping experience. Hopefully I’ll also experience another happy side effect and see my list of reoccurring purchases shrink as a result of this endeavor.

I’ve got to say, I am a bit sad about this. Target was the awesome treat store for my sisters and I when we were little, where we’d get to go if we were good, where my mom would take me to let me pick out horse figurines for my beloved collection. I have a lot of fond memories tied up in this store and it’s going to be hard for me to stay away.

But if I can stick to my guns, maybe my kids won’t have irrational attachments to stores. Wouldn’t that be nice.

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Written by GRSeim

January 2, 2012 at 9:55 am

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