Culture At Large

Shopping the gender-neutral toy aisle with Jesus

Caryn Rivadeneira

As I lay snuggled under our gender-neutral down comforter the other night, I pondered Target’s plan to remove gender labels for its toys and bedding alongside a Council on Biblical Manhood and Womanhood blog post expressing dismay over the decision. I wondered where in the Bible it says that boys should have “their” toy guns and plaid bedding clearly identified for them, as that post implies.

As my mind wandered, I imagined Jesus dropping by my local (and beloved) Super Target. After adjusting his eyes to all that fluorescence, this Jesus - the one from those Sunday school story books, in his robe and dusty sandals - surveys the store. Something beyond the bright bags, the pink leotards and jewelry case catches his eye. A slight shimmer. Something like satin. And he realizes he’s found what he’d come for: the robes.

As he approaches, Jesus smiles. He reaches out to touch the shimmering sleeve, so soft, so smooth. But then Jesus notices the others. Waffle knit. Fluffy. Printed and patterned. Purple - there’s even one in purple! Jesus doesn’t even want to look at the price tag.

So he goes back to the white, waffle knit, slides it off the hanger and starts to slip an arm through.

Just then, there’s a wild rustle behind the lacy bras and a scream.

“Jesus, NO!” the man yells. He’s from the Council on Biblical Manhood and Womanhood. You can tell by his label. The man yanks the robe out of Jesus’ arms and leans over, panting.

“Close call, Jesus,” he says, “that’s a woman’s robe. Let me show you where the men’s robes are. Well, actually, let’s get you some khakis. No, wait. A suit. And a haircut. You’re almost 30. You’ve got to start preaching soon. Can’t do it looking like that…”

How often do we allow ourselves to pretend that a cultural preference is Gospel truth?

Yes, what I’m imagining is ridiculous. I’m sure if anyone from the Council on Biblical Manhood and Womanhood actually knew they were in the presence of Christ, what He was wearing - or whose gender it had been made for - would be the last thing on their minds. On any of our minds, I hope.

And yet, how often do we allow ourselves to be distracted by the ridiculous, to be sideswiped by the miniscule, to pretend that a cultural preference is Gospel truth?

Target’s decision to stop labeling toys and bedding as either “boys” or “girls” is a good one. A wise one. One that harkens back to the way goods have historically been sold. And one that I believe will help kids grow up with healthier senses of self and that will cause less potential angst in parents.

But at the end of the day, this decision is a marketing one, as was the decision to put gender labels on products in the first place. Target is not out to do away with gender distinction (the store still has a “maternity” section, after all). And this isn’t Christian persecution. It’s a result of responding to disgruntled customers - like me - who find telling boys and girls what they should like to be silly.

Ultimately, Target’s decision is about selling toys and bedding and about pleasing customers. Obviously, not all customers are pleased with this. But those Christians who are angry at Target might do well to join me in imagining Jesus on a shopping trip. When we turn our eyes on that man in the robe (or maybe we’d call it a dress?), when we focus on the Savior who shattered all gender and cultural expectations by inviting women to learn and to teach, dining with tax collectors and embracing the unclean, it’s hard to imagine him freaking out because our Bratz dolls aren’t clearly labeled for girls.

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