California’s Gender Neutral Law for Toys Sugarcoats Complexities of Gender Identity


California Gov. Newsom signed a law into legislation requiring department stores to display children’s toys in a gender-neutral fashion. (Courtesy of Facebook)

If the earliest days of the pandemic taught us anything, it would be how nothing, not even public health, can escape politicization. Even in circumstances of life or death, we have seen how deep partisan lines run, as well as the consequences of such division. In 2021, even children are not safe from politics, as California Gov. Gavin Newsom signed a law into legislation requiring department stores to display children’s toys in a gender-neutral fashion. There are still boys’ and girls’ toys sections in stores, but now there will also be a gender-neutral toy section. Although Newsom’s intentions are commendable, this new law simply does not do enough to help children comprehend the complexities of our still-gendered society. 

Just like every new policy, this legislation is highly likely to leave many Americans divided, and such a reaction is understandable considering the substantial objections to the merits of this law. Promoting gender-neutral toys plays a role in cultivating a more inclusive social and developmental environment for all children which is integral to their future interaction with the world around them. Additionally, including genderless toys will expand the horizons of children’s creativity and self-expression which is pivotal in a child’s identity development. 

However, gender-neutral toys can also stifle and confuse a child’s gender identity when typically an understanding of such is formed by age four. The concept of gender neutrality in a child’s mind would only sugarcoat the unalienable truth that we still live in a gendered society. Although Gov. Newsom’s approach is admirable as it aims to better the lives of America’s future generations, it does not do enough to help children understand the concept of gender in our changing world. 

Childhood should not be regulated by a law looking to teach them about gender when parents and future elementary school educators can educate them. Children are becoming more aware of social issues; however, this does not mean they are equipped to understand the ever evolving concept of gender. This contrast is crucial, since childrens’ relationship with gender identity plays a defining role throughout their lives as they mature. This does not mean there should not be constructive dialogue with children concerning gender, but childhood is a sensitive period when kids are growing into their bodies and mental states. Blurring the line between what society recognizes as the traditional gendered social structure in toys — which teaches kids about their gender identities — will further confuse childrens’ concepts of gender, and therefore complicate childrens’ maturation.

 Although Gov. Newsom’s approach to disseminate a message of gender inclusivity of all peoples from all age groups is shrewd, there is a missed opportunity Newsom fails to take advantage of in this legislation: parents.

Instead of legislating gender neutrality to children, whose minds are too impressionable to fully comprehend our changing social standards, Governor Newsom should strike where the iron is hottest —  parents, educators and other adult figures children hold in high trust.

Gov. Newsom should instead lobby for gender-neutral legislation for all other stores, targeting the move toward parents and not children. This way, children will see their parents embracing the message of gender inclusivity, providing  a more appropriate means for parents to engage them in constructive dialogue about gender neutrality. A likely reason parents may oppose Governor Newsom’s law would be because they feel as if the government is pushing an agenda onto their kids, indoctrinating them on sensitive topics like gender. To eliminate this potentially inflammatory sentiment, Newsom must afford parents with the same choice they might feel they are being denied with this legislation. 

If Governor Newsom were to provide this choice in the form of legislation targeted towards adult-frequented stores, he would be able to reassure parents he is not legislating to encroach upon their parenting methods, and he would actually be serving to improve them. Parents still hold rigid perspectives on the concept of gender roles simply due to the respective generations in which they were raised. Therefore, Newsom’s outreach to parents is critical, as it could erode some of the social fallacies from their childhoods. He can help parents be more receptive to America’s evolving stance on gender, and therefore, pave the way for children to have a greater understanding of gender as well. Parents are a reflection of their times, and children are a reflection of their parents. Hence, it would be logical to appeal to parents who are more capable of understanding the gender roles they grew up with and how they continue to change as time passes. 

If Newsom could accomplish this, it would go a much longer way than seemingly inserting a politicized narrative into something as innocent as children’s toys, which are early developmental milestones in their lives.

Noah Osborne, FCRH ’23, is a journalism major from Harlem, N.Y.