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Target faces backlash after pledging to remove gender-based signage from stores

Last week, Target vowed to abandon gendered signage in their stores and has received both anger and praise.

While many customers expressed admiration for the company, others verbalized their disgust and disappointment. Some of the criticisms are based in the belief that non-gendered signage will confuse customers and make it more difficult to shop, but many are rooted in religion, politics, and homophobia.

Franklin Graham, president of The Billy Graham Evangelistic Association, expressed on Facebook that “Target may be forgetting who has made their stores strong. It’s not gender-neutral people out there—it’s working American families, fathers and mothers with boys and girls they love,” insinuating American families are inherently interested in maintaining gender binaries and norms. He even went so far as to post Target’s corporate phone number at the end of the post, urging those who agree with him to state their complaints.

In multiple episodes of Fox News’s Fox and Friends, numerous guests lament that gender neutral signage and toys “deny that there’s a difference between the sexes” and confirm that embracing gender labels and stereotypes actually helps children, because girls and boys “naturally [have] different interests.”

Many shoppers who are against Target’s decision voiced their boycott of the store via Facebook. Unfortunately for some of them, an internet troll posing as a Target customer service rep replied to their fiery wall posts.

While the troll—later revealed as Mike Melgaard—wasn’t sanctioned by Target for his rogue support, his prank reflects changing tides.

We live in a society in which consumers can better express their comments and concerns to the corporations they support. After all, Target’s move towards gender neutrality was largely based on past customer backlashes that went viral over social media. Melgaard, though he admittedly pulled the prank more for humor than activism, represents the modern consumer: an individual with the resources to voice the values they want in a company.

Melgaard—intentionally or not—served a political purpose when he embarrassed those against Target’s decision.

There is a common thread that links essentially every comment, article, and post against Target’s move towards gender-neutrality. It is that no one expresses a need for Target to be more Christian, more conservative, or more hetero-friendly. Target’s crime is being too “politically correct.”

It’s clear that those who’ve now vowed to never again shop at Target believe that political correctness is liberal by nature, and consequently weak, “too” LGBT+ friendly, and—most importantly—un-American.

Matt Walsh, the author of an article on The Blaze titled “Yes, Target, I Do Want My Daughter To Conform To Her Gender,” writes

“A few hypersensitive, hyperliberal parents complained that gender segregation in the toy department makes kids feel “deflated” and “chastised,” and Target made the change to accommodate them. The sensitivities of the 0.0001 percent outweighed the concerns of the 99.999 percent, as usual. The whiniest and most feminist wheel got the oil.”

This is the most startling, most problematic issue of the Target backlash. Target is being reprimanded for having a “political agenda” and progressive values as though the company is attempting to hide behind a policy change: the abandonment of gendered signs.

Yet, Target had a savvy response to Melgaard’s prank, posting a photo of two Troll dolls with the caption “Remember when Trolls were the kings of the world? Woo hoo! They’re back and only at Target stores.” Though corporations tend to have certain unspoken boundaries when it comes to political beliefs, Target’s nod to Melgaard doesn’t reflect covertness at all.

Nevertheless, nearly all of the criticisms Melgaard responded to seem to say the same thing: This is more than just signs and colors—we’re onto you, Target!

Meanwhile, the bigoted critics are the ones masquerading as mere patriots and scorned traditionalists; in other words, hard-working Americans who are already inconvenienced by having to raise their children in a world so willing to bow to “the P.C. police.”

If these self-declared “patriots” are most concerned with honesty and speaking the truth, why do so many of them not value the possibility for multiple truths? Ones that lay outside those they’ve lived themselves? Specifically the truths Target is willing to validate?

Seventeen transgender women have been murdered in the US this year, many of them women of color. Trans teens are subject to bullying, violence, and harassment, but often can’t or don’t receive support. Countless gender-variant children embark on their coming out process every year.

What about their truths?

Is it worth it to these people to fight Target—in addition to forces of progressive activism—just to maintain their own conceptions of what is right, good, and American?

If Target being “politically correct” in its plainest form means respecting their customers, why is that such a detestable thing?


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Written by Taryn Pire

Taryn Pire is a starving poet and newbie bartender from north Jersey. A recent graduate of Ithaca College, her interests include slam poetry, social justice, death metal, and lively conversation. She has dreams of living in a small NYC apartment, where she’d survive on tacos, whiskey, and words. Follow her on Wordpress @tarynpire

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