My first take your child to work day, and why I side with Target on gender labels

In 1992, Bill, Hillary, Al, and Tipper were hot on the presidential campaign trail, and I was gearing up for my very first take-your-child-to-work day. My mom worked as a social worker in a school for kids with behavioral and learning problems, and I couldn’t wait to see what she did at work. I was only six years old, and the only part I remember about the day was when the kids all got gift bags to take home. I was so excited for a present!

 
 

They had “girls’ toys” and “boys’ toys.” I lined up with all the others girls to get my bag, and when I opened it, my heart sank. It was a Polly Pocket or My Little Pony—frankly, I don’t remember what it was because I thought it was gross. I forced a “thank you” to the man who handed me the bag while I looked at all the other girls comparing their stupid dolls. I wondered why I wasn’t excited about my gift, and I felt ashamed. Something must be wrong with me. This wasn’t take-your-child-to-work day, this was take-your-BOY-OR-GIRL-to-work day, and I was the wrong kind of girl because I liked sports and building things. I wanted to cry.

 
 

My mom knew that wasn’t my kind of toy, so she discreetly asked the toy man if they had any extra boys’ toys. He motioned me into another room where he handed me a bag with football cards and silly string. Now this was cool! I beamed the biggest smile as he leaned over and said, “These will be more fun anyway.” Twenty-three years later, I still have these cards. That’s how much this moment meant to me.

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I am so thankful that my mom spoke up for me, and that the toy man made me feel okay about my toy preference. But why did this exchange have to happen in secret? Why all the shame? This should have never happened. They’re fucking toys. But this, along with things like the girls’ and boys’ Happy Meal toy options, heightened my awareness that I was not who I was supposed to be. No kid should feel like that, and science shows that gender-labeled toys limit children’s resources. I hope what Target is doing by removing gender labels on their toys will set a precedent to end this silly part of our culture.

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