Gender-Neutral Toys In California?

A remarkably large number of laws are enacted not because they will do any good, but for their symbolic value, especially when such value is perceived strongly by a constituency of one party or the other. This is, in my opinion, one of many signs of the decadence of our democracy.

A case in point is the much-touted law, just passed in California, that has been described as requiring gender-neutral marketing of toys. Axios has a useful roundup of the coverage under the headline “California mandates gender-neutral toy aisles for large retailers.” (Links omitted.)

California Gov. Gavin Newsom signed into law Saturday a bill requiring large retailers to provide gender-neutral toy sections, per the Los Angeles Times.

Why it matters: California is the first state to adopt such a law. LGBTQ advocates have pointed out that marketing methods using pink and blue hues “pressure children to conform to gender stereotypes,” AP notes.

* The Consumer Federation of California supported the law, saying: “Keeping similar items that are traditionally marketed either for girls or for boys separated makes it more difficult for the consumer to compare the products and incorrectly implies that their use by one gender is inappropriate,” the Sacramento Bee reports.

Details: The bill, which will take effect in 2024, overcame opposition from Republicans and conservative groups, who said it was government overreach.

But if you actually read the text of the bill, it is virtually meaningless. It requires retailers that sell toys and that employ more than 500 Californians to “maintain a gender neutral section or area, to be labeled at the discretion of the retailer, in which a reasonable selection of the items and toys for children that it sells shall be displayed….”

That’s it. The “gender neutral” area, which can be labeled in any way–e.g., “toys”–should have a “reasonable selection” of products. The large majority of the store’s goods can then be segregated into “boys’ toys” and “girls’ toys,” although that isn’t how stores generally do things these days. And what happens if a retail chain fails to meet this extremely low bar? It can be fined $250.

This is the kind of legislative activity that has zero purpose other than to generate headlines that will be cheered by one’s own team, while perhaps being excoriated by the opposition. Legislatures should have better things to do, but in today’s debased political environment, symbolism is paramount.

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