American baby culture is big on gender. We throw “gender reveal” parties with pink and blue displays. Retailers divide sections between “boys” and “girls.”
Essentially, these divisions only indicate a child’s genitals, which is…super weird. Yet, a child’s gender is a defining part of their identity. In fact, it’s arguably the first part of their identity they learn.
However, California state legislators are trying to change that. They are currently on their third attempt to mandate gender-neutral child sections in all major retailers.
What Is Assembly Bill 1084?
California assembly members introduced Assembly Bill 1084 on Feb. 18, 2021. After five amendments, the bill passed in the state Senate on Sept. 2, with 49 Ayes and 16 Noes.
Assembly Bill 1084 refers to retailers of toys and childcare items. The bill says that all large California stores must “maintain undivided areas of its sales floor.”
“The bill would prohibit the use of signage indicating that particular items are for either girls or for boys,” reads the bill. If retailers place any products from undivided areas in other parts of the store, there must be no signage indicating gender.
The bill also applies to California e-commerce sites. Under this law, these sites must include at least one “unisex” section.
The ‘Let Kids Be Kids’ Campaign
Fittingly, a child inspired Assembly Bill 1084. In Assemblymember Evan Low’s initial press release, he cites a then-eight-year-old Britton as his inspiration.
“8-year-old Britten asked, ‘Why should a store tell me what a girl’s shirt or toy is?’” said Low. “Why are certain things in a store ‘off limits’ to her because she was a girl? Her bill will help children express themselves freely and without bias. We need to let kids be kids.”
This idea (and catchphrase) isn’t new, either. In 2012, users of the online forum Mumsnet opened a thread on the subject. The thread sent out an open call for those who believed children should be allowed to enjoy whatever they please, regardless of gender stereotypes.
“They shouldn’t walk into a toy store and feel pressured to conform to archaic gender roles,” the thread reads. As a result, the Let Toys Be Toys campaign launched in November 2012.
Why Are Lawmakers Pushing This Bill (For The Third Time)?
Let Toys Be Toys is a U.K.-based campaign. The states, however, were slower to hop aboard the gender neutrality train.
California lawmakers have previously tried and failed to push similar bills—once in 2019 and again in 2020. No other state has passed a law of this kind.
Bill 1084 states two major declarations. One, consumers can more readily identify differences in similar products if the products are in one, undivided area of the sales floor.
Two, the bill reads, “Keeping similar items that are marketed either for girls or boys separated makes it more difficult for the consumer to compare the products.” It also “incorrectly implies that their use by one gender is inappropriate.”
Is This Worth The Effort?
Starting Jan. 1, 2024, any retailer that fails to comply is liable for a penalty of almost $1,000.
Most American adults grew up in a society where children’s products were marketed toward “girls” and “boys.” So, is Assembly Bill 1084 worth all of the trouble? Or is it splitting hairs?
As it turns out, gender socialization has a strong impact on kids’ self-esteem. Most children develop the ability to recognize stereotypical gender groups between 18 and 24 months. Most categorize their gender by year three.
However, the clinic writes, “Some children learn to behave in ways that bring them the most reward, despite their authentic gender identity.” This is due to the reinforcement of stereotypes, like complimenting a boy’s strength but a girl’s beauty.
In 2017, the Journal of Adolescent Health published a study that found that gender socialization increased the risk of pregnancy, STIs, and domestic violence in girls. In boys, it increased the risk of substance abuse and suicide.
The Road To Gender Inclusivity
Considering the grave effects of childhood gender socialization, I think it’s safe to say the bill is not splitting hairs. Rather, it’s laying the groundwork for a more inclusive society.
And after all, kids will only beat up (and eventually abandon) their toys. Similarly, they’ll stain and soil their clothes until they hit their next growth spurt. And is there any kid who needs gender-specific diapers? (Read: no.)
This bill doesn’t seek to eliminate gender for those who wish to celebrate it. Instead, it would allow all children to enjoy whatever they please, no matter their assigned gender at birth.
Indeed, we can only hope that Governor Newsom will pave the way to a more inclusive society that cares less about what’s between your legs and more about the content of your character.