On Target and Toy Aisles and Why I’m Sharing Something Other Than Anger

My friend, Mercy, just wrote me on the Book of Faces to say, “Omg… Beth Woolsey! Have you written anything about the Christian outrage over Target’s gender neutral toy aisle signs? You’re always my go-to blog repost on these cultural topics. Several friends are liking or reposting Matt Walsh or Franklin Graham’s take on the “silly feminists” or “gay agenda” and I just can’t.”

I get what Mercy’s asking. I get it, because most of the time I just can’t, too. Just CAN’T.

And I know there’s a lot of crazy, ranty stuff going around online about gender and Target and WHAT IT ALL MEANS FOR AMERICA and CHRISTIANITY and STANDARDS if we don’t have Girl Aisles and Boy Aisles at Target anymore.

WHAT DOES IT MEAN FOR FAITH and HOLINESS?

I mean…, What if we go to Target and there’s just an aisle called TOYS?

And another aisle called BEDDING?

THIS IS WHY THIS COUNTRY IS GOING TO HELL, y’all! Because we can no longer worship materialism in simple, gender-segregated peace, the way God intended.

And I want to get all wrapped around the axle about it. I do. I want to because, this whole this is so very ridiculous, friends. SO VERY. I want to rant and respond and make my points and counterpoints, ’cause I’ll bet I have darn good thoughts in here somewhere.

But I can’t do it because there’s too large a part of me that’s not properly enraged.

Most of me is just… sad.

Sad for all we lose when we fight over worthless things.

Sad for all the time we spend on which big box stores Jesus prefers us to visit when we could be feeding the hungry and caring for the poor and fighting for the marginalized.

Sad for all the people on the margins right here in our own communities who watch the war rage — Christians fighting Christians over things that diminish Love — and receive the message loud and clear that you’re not welcome among us unless we can confine you to our premade boxes and rigid aisle walls.

So, instead, I’m re-sharing the post below today, about my daughter and about my son and about a doll who is their friend.

May we work to share stories like this that break down barriers instead of build them higher.

And may we all find mercy and grace and magic in the mess.

With love for all the people in all the aisles,

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THE LAST DOLL
originally posted in June 2013

I stood in the mall in the tiny store crowded with books and toys and trinkets of all shapes and sizes, and I stared at the wall of stuffed animals as I tried desperately to narrow down my choice.

I was 8 years old, and my fourth facial surgery was just a few days away. The stuffed friend I was about to pick would be my hospital companion, tasked to stay with me after visitor hours ended when my parents would be required to leave.

That’s the way hospitals worked in the early 80’s, without fluffy modern-day nonsense where parents remain with their kids in the hospital around the clock. And, of course, by “fluffy modern-day nonsense” I mean nothing of the kind; parents of the 80’s were made of stronger stuff than me, no doubt, because it would take an elephant tranquilizer, a team of Navy SEALs, and a reinforced cage to get me out of my kid’s hospital room.

Still, I was never afraid in the hospital as a child due to equal parts Unflappable Parents, Unlimited Popsicles and the kind of Unshakable Companionship only a teddy bear can provide.

Choosing that bear was tough, though. A whole wall of bears and lambs, and I had to hurt all their feelings except one. I was that kid. The one who truly, deeply believed my animals and dolls were alive. The one who hid outside my bedroom and then JUMPED through the doorway to try to catch them moving. The one who whispered that I was trustworthy and if they’d just let me in on their secret, I’d keep it. Cross my heart, hope to die, stick a needle in my eye. So when I picked my bear in the mall that day, I cried because I couldn’t take them all, and I told them quietly not to worry; their turn for a family would come soon.

When Abby, my oldest, was 10, she campaigned for an American Girl Just-Like-Me Doll. I resisted because Oh my word! EXPENSIVE. We’re not the $100 doll kind of people. We’re more like the Look It’s On Sale or We Can Get It at a Thrift Store or Hooray for Hand-Me-Downs kind of people. Plus, American Girl Dolls need clothes and a hairbrush and stuff, stuff, stuff. And Abby was a fairly grown-up 10 who was already more interested in make-up than make-believe. How long would she play with a doll, anyway?

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But then I remembered my hospital bear and my favorite childhood book, A Little Princess by Frances Hodgson Burnett. Have you read it? It’s still good. Much better than her more well-known The Secret Garden which is kind of spooky and sad and yellow.

A Little Princess chronicles the story of Sara Crewe after her father reluctantly leaves her at a boarding school. Before he goes, father and daughter search London for Sara’s Last Doll. “Dolls ought to be intimate friends,” Sara says. And finally, they find Emily, with her attentive gray-blue eyes that read as though she knew Sara all along. That’s because she does, I thought when I read it for the first time. She really does know you, Sara.

IMG_0688-EditAnd with that memory, I was done in. It was time for Abby’s Last Doll.

She picked Tiffany, who was everything you hope for a Last Doll to be.

But time went by, as it usually does, and eventually Tiffany was boxed up and put on a shelf and forgotten.

Until 6-year-old Cai found her yesterday. A beautiful box that revealed a beautiful doll. He pulled Tiffany from storage, and he held her reverently because he knew somehow that’s what you do with a doll like her.

I sat quietly in the living room yesterday, watching as Cai, with Tiffany in his arms, pushed Abby’s creaky door open. “Abby?” he said, “Is this your doll?”

“Yes,” she said.

“Can I play with her?” he asked.

And Abby was quiet for a long moment before she said, “Yes, Cai. Her name is Tiffany, and she’s very special. You’ll have to be careful with her and treat her kindly.”

“I will,” Cai said, and he withdrew from her room and closed the door.

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And I swear I saw Tiffany smile.

………

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ABOUT BETH WOOLSEY I'm a writer. And a mess. And mouthy, brave, and strong. I believe we all belong to each other. I believe in the long way 'round. And I believe, always, in grace in the grime and wonder in the wild of a life lived off course from what was, once, a perfectly good plan.
20 comments
  1. ANNNNNNNNND just like that I am crying. Its not like I am secretly reading your blog in class while I should be focusing.

  2. Oh Beth! You always nail it. Wise wise words. Thank you for taking something tough and making it beautiful.

  3. I was in a very close and active play group when my eldest son was born, of infants and toddlers who were mostly breastfed (this isn’t a judgement post FWIW.) When my son was about 18 months old, started breastfeeding his stuffed animals. I got him a doll “Little Baby” that he loved very much, had his little sling to carry her in, and of course nurse. He was the first of the children to pretend to nurse anything. (His best baby friend breastfed a film canister!) We figured it would make him a good father some day.
    Flash forward: he is now 18 year old, a favorite of many children, head counselor at our church’s Chalice Camp (we are Unitarian Universalists) and works at a library helping in the children’s section. He also hikes, plays guitar, does archery etc etc. If playing with a doll turned him anything, it turned him kind.

  4. My son’s absolute favorite stuffed toy was a rabbit I got as a shower gift. We have a photo of it sitting in the crib where we would bring home our new baby (we chose not to know the gender before birth). Now in his 20s, he confessed to me a couple of years ago that he can’t eat chocolate Easter bunnies because he feels too guilty eating a rabbit. (And BTW, I still have my favorite childhood stuffed toy, too, a monkey I dubbed Christopher which is now nearly hairless.)

  5. Beth, I’ve been following your blog for months now, and, though you hear it over and over again, can I just say that I love your blog and your heart and your humor and really everything about this? Because I really do. Your heart for the Lord and your ability to focus on what’s important (and to recognize what’s NOT) is so refreshing and encouraging when my Facebook feed is frequently filled with well-meaning Christians being angry and irrational and mean-spirited in the name of a Savior that represents none of those things to me. So thanks again and keep up the good fight. Here’s to hope and love and reason!

  6. Beth, you’re right on Target, as usual.

    U.L.

  7. For me, this isn’t a trivial issue. It’s pivotal. Target’s decision makes me, and my children, who carry my heart with them, safer.

  8. I really don’t get the outrage either. My son and daughter watch My Little Pony with Daddy all the time. My daughter plays “pew pew pew! You dead!” with her brother. They’re just children exploring the world and enjoying a good romp with their imaginations. No need to get worked up.

  9. Oh my goodness, the fear that you would hurt your stuffed animals feelings! Yes! I would take so long saying good night to every single toy; I thought my mother’s head would explode! Honestly, I think as a society people spend waaay to much time getting offended by very little things. There are so many huge, terrible, heart breaking things to worry about. Sadly, those things seem to just get ignored.

  10. Well you’ve done the near impossible… I rarely cry over sentimental things..”touching” commercials, movies that are supposed to be sad etc.. Children movies though…sure! I mean, both my husband (who totally is a “sentimental crier”) and I were bawling as the toys in Toy Story 3 sat and stared into the flames before they made their fantastic escape… we took grabbed hands and looked at each other and both lost it.. (Our children were like What the…?!)

    And we cried again at the end, as Andy had one last play with his toys with their new owner before heading off to college… and. now I’m sitting here trying not yo blubber all over my keyboard.

    The “passing of the guard” so to speak is a touching thing.. And truly, if taking off the “gender” labels at Target get more boys to see dolls as a viable toy, and allow them to foster that tenderness, and nurturing, then all the better. Otherwise, I sincerely don’t get the uproar..

    But I DO love this. And I love YOU… and I just.. well, I need to go blow my nose now. (and not at all wipe a few tears away as I am driving to do the nightly pick up… really…)

  11. The little princess was always my favorite. I didn’t know it wasn’t very well known.
    And seriously, it’s about time Target got rid of the dumb colored sections in the toy department. It’s not like we can’t find the toys we want when we go to Walmart or Fred Meyer… It has always felt very forced to me. And I really don’t get the outrage. Is it just because people always have to have an opinion about everything?

  12. Love Sara Crewe and The Last Doll. And Cai and Tiffany, and Abby for being so awesome.

    I can’t even really work up a good outrage over people getting mad at Target, because, like you, I’m mostly just sad. Sad and a bit eye-rolly because REALLY, PEOPLE? This is what we’re going to get upset over? It’s not as if Target is forcing them to buy toys they don’t want. There are so many bigger things to be concerned about.

  13. I seem to recall another post, Beth: “All the colors are for all the people, Mom.” Out of the mouths of babes…

  14. You made me cry miss Beth! Thank you. Now to work with a runny nose 🙂

  15. Ohhh…A Little Princess was my favorite book when I was 10. I read it repeatedly, because I was that girl, too! The edition illustrated by Tasha Tudor was my favorite and when I finally got my own copy of that version for Christmas the next year, I cried. I still own that book.

    And regarding Target: yes! Why must we label every single aisle? If I am looking for toys, as long as I get to the right area of the store, I should be able to find what I need. I mean if I glance down an aisle, I can see if there are Legos, or dolls, or dump trucks, or games and go get what I want. If I want bedding, I can look at the sheets available and decide on the motif, color, or style I want…so can’t my child make that decision, too? I don’t mind clothing being labeled boys/girls, mostly because a size 10 in boys means something entirely different than a size 10 in girls. (And my boys hate–yes hate!–having to try on clothes so sending them in to try something on that isn’t going to work just frustrates them which leads to complaining which frustrates me, and I don’t really need extra frustration in my life right now!)

    Truthfully the whole labeling of things, though, felt like an insult to my intelligence. Ex: an aisle with 2 labels: “building sets” and “girls’ building sets”, as if I was not smart enough to figure out that girls could play with building sets without signage to tell me so.

    We spend too much time arguing over minutiae. There are orphans to care for, hungry to feed, and people to clothe. If we are going to reach out in Love, let’s get busy reaching. It’s not about what the signs proclaim; it’s about Who we proclaim!

  16. Today, my 9 year old boy, had a long medical appt. When he was finished, the tech told him he could choose a toy from the toy closet. From across the room I saw the closet doors open and I saw all the pink on the left side, and I knew that was where my little one’s eyes also went. He started at the Barbies, making his way across the closet. And then back to the Barbies. The doc next to me mentioned he probably didn’t want (shouldn’t) choose a Barbie. In my kindest firm voice I said, “no, it’s okay. He loves playing Barbies and it will get a lot of love.” The doc clearly got my point and moved on. It was evident no one was quite sure how to respond to the 9 year old boy with a Barbie, or his mom who didn’t seem concerned in the least bit. Then as we walked out, my little guy nonchalantly hid the package so no one would see what he was carrying. So many conflicting feelings as a mom- the fear (I’m not sure about all this either but I love my child more than I love gender stereotypes), the protection (don’t you dare judge MY kid!), the pride (good for you, kiddo, for choosing what you actually want), the sadness (hiding his toy from wandering eyes.) Parenting isn’t for wimps.

    1. Oh my- this story of your little boy reminded me of a song from Free to be Me “Williams Doll” is about a little boy telling his dad that he wants a doll and explaining why to his dad. And his grandmother reminding the dad that he played with a doll as a kid. Your son deserves all of the Barrie’s from all of the stores.

      1. Yes! I loved that song when I was little. I am a girl who hates most “girly” stereotypes. In our society, it’s luckily fairly accepted for girls to like stereotypical boy things, but not so much the other way around. I think it’s important to allow breaking gender barriers in both directions. Or just eliminating them, which is what I’d like to do.

  17. You do good work Beth, thank you.

  18. How do you always, always make me cry?

    I was given a teddy bear as a gift when I was incredibly tiny. It might have been my very first Christmas. All I know is, he was always there. I”ll be 52 in a couple of weeks. My dark brown hair is mostly white, being blessed with good genes has kept the wrinkles away but the skin’s a little crepe-y, and the joints sometimes creak.

    The bear? Well, most of his fur is gone, his eyes have been replaced a couple of times, and his pompon nose is long gone. He’s still the one possession I would grab if my house was on fire.

    Waving in the dark, to all of us who still identify with Sara Crewe and The Last Doll.

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