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California bill would eliminate "boys" and "girls" toy sections in stores

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Barbie dolls and tea sets should occupy shelves in the same aisle as superhero action figures and remote-controlled cars under a new law proposed in California.

Two lawmakers in the Golden State recently introduced a bill that would make the children's sections of department stores more gender-neutral. The measure would eliminate "boys" and "girls" sections at department stores with 500 or more employees. If passed, the law would force Walmart and other major retailers to restructure portions of their California stores or face a $1,000 fine. 

State Assemblyman Evan Low, who co-sponsored the bill, said an 8-year-old girl named Britten inspired him to write the proposal. Low said in a statement that Britten didn't understand why a store was telling her which toys were meant for boys and which were for girls.

"Her bill will help children express themselves freely and without bias," Low said in a statement. "We need to let kids be kids."

Low's bill is the most recent example of efforts nationwide to eliminate gender labels from toy marketing. Hasbro last month announced it was dropping the title of "Mr." from the Mr. Potato Head brand, which would now be known as the Potato Head brand. Mattel in 2019 began selling gender-neutral dolls. Target removed gender labels on children's toys back in 2015. 

Such moves have taken place as a growing body of academic research has shown that gender-specific toys can stunt a child's emotional and psychological growth. 

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Indiana University psychology professor Judith Blakemore said many toys marketed to boys are associated with violence and competitiveness while traditional girls' toys emphasize nurturing, domestic skills and physical attractiveness. Such gender stereotypes could mislead girls into believing that the most important thing in life is to be pretty, Blakemore said in an interview with the National Association for the Education of Young Children.  

Parents who want their kids to develop more fully academically, musically, artistically and socially should opt for gender-neutral toys, Blakemore told the association.

Children shouldn't feel stigmatized for playing with a toy that has traditionally been targeted to one gender or another, Low said. Low's proposal is in the early stages of the California Legislature. If passed this year, it would go into effect in 2023. 

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