Target is the phenomenally successful discount star based in Minneapolis, Minnesota. Their name is on Target Field, home of the Minnesota Twins, and the Target Center, where the Timberwolves play basketball and I saw Billy Joel in concert in 1989. In some ways the corporation is indicative of the changes in retail sales in the last decades.
Back in the 70s Dayton’s was the department store king in Minneapolis. Current Minnesota Governor Mark Dayton is from that family, and no one would have predicted that downtown Minneapolis would ever be without a Dayton’s (or it’s competitor Donaldson’s – both visible on the opening credits of the Mary Tyler Moore show). But Dayton’s is gone. Dayton Hudson corporation acquired Marshall Fields in 1990, and is now named Target Corporation.
Back in 1962 two discount chains began. Down in Arkansas Sam Walton began Walmart, and Dayton’s opened Target as it’s discount store. Still, the discount stores were secondary until in the late 70s when the oil crises and recession suddenly made discount anything all the rage. I recall Target coming to Sioux Falls in 1980 and quickly becoming a hit – Walmart had not yet reached the upper midwest at that time.
Target quickly eclipsed Dayton’s and became the core part of the new Target Corporation empire, as Target often was perceived as an upscale version of Walmart – cleaner, a bit more expensive, and with better groomed clientele. It now reaches to Maine!
The other day Target announced that it is no longer going to differentiate between boys and girls sections in the toy aisles. They claimed customers complained that the division made no sense, and that some toys (like Legos and even Nerf guns) are increasingly popular with girls. No reports that boys were yearning for Barbie dolls though!
It seems like a good move. The toys will be grouped by age or some other logical point, and there is less a sense that boys and girls have to have different toys. But to many on the right the move sparked rage. Read the comments this man got when he fooled people on Facebook into thinking his was the Target page.
The claims are a bit silly. Target is trying to turn kids gay, Target wants to deny children their gender, Target is pandering to adults who want political correctness, and calls for boycotts. I found it hard to believe that the comments there were indicative of any large swathe of people, but in googling this, there are a lot of people enraged that Target dare have gender neutral toy aisles!
Even Franklin Graham, son of Billy Graham, has called for a boycott. Graham is a bit of an extremist, but it’s fascinating to see people on the right seethe over something as minor as toy aisle signage. Fox News, which seems to feed on the emotional insecurity of conservatives, also was up in arms over the change. Sometimes it’s hard to differentiate between news from The Onion and what’s real!
Why all the fuss? First, it’s only toys. You’ll still have boys and girls clothing sections, and bathrooms remain gendered. That’s different than my place of employment, which is going to gender neutral restrooms campus wide.
I think it’s a reaction to the ongoing and deepening cultural shift in the country evidenced by public support for gay marriage and increasing tolerance of transgender people. Not long ago gays were kept in the closet, and the idea of gay marriage seemed as recently as the 1990s to be extremist. Caitlyn Jenner would not have been so celebrated even 15 years ago.
This shift is seen throughout society, and to those used to traditional, conservative values, it seems like the whole country is going crazy. They can’t get how things that they see as self-evidently weird are not only accepted, but seen as a new normal. They’re angry that they can’t discriminate on the basis of sexual orientation, defining as religious freedom the right to act on what is now recognized as bigotry.
Target is a symbol; their actions are the latest indication that they have lost control of the culture, that a new generation with new ideas is leading the way. And it’s really not a right-left issue either. Talk to young conservatives and more often than not they are fine with gay marriage and these cultural issues. It’s really the “moral majority” generation that came of age when Jerry Falwell was calling for a culture war that is up in arms.
They’re mad for a logical reason – they lost the culture war, and Target’s move is just the latest reminder.