Gender and Privacy Lessons at Toys “R” Us

Normally, I make a point of avoiding Toys “R” Us at all costs. Aside from hating everything it stands for as a goliath multinational corporation, it consistently has the worst customer service and merchandise of any store I’ve ever been into (Radio Shack ranks a not-so-distant second). But, occasionally, need seems to propel me through their multicolored grammar- and punctuation-abusing doors (though, it must be said, even on those occasions I never find what I’m looking for, which proves that I’m either a slow learner, a glutton for punishment, or perhaps both).

As it so happens, my son is turning one year old next Saturday and, for various reasons, my wife and I are having a hard time finding the precise party supplies we’re looking for. Once again, I mistakenly thought I’d find just the thing in the small city known as Toys “R” Us, so over lunch today, I found myself back in that soul-sucking purgatory its actual rulers would like you to believe is presided over by the towering giraffe with such a friendly face.

After quickly figuring out that the store offered nothing remotely close to what I was looking for (it never ever does; I just want to stress that fact), I decided to have a little fun documenting some of the more grotesque aspects of the store. After all, I had my camera with me and a little time to spare.

There being so much to choose from in the deliberately labyrinthine marketer’s rat maze around me, I decided to start with the most obvious: gender lessons. I was shocked–shocked!–to learn that Toys “R” Us is so helpful for parents or other adults who need to know immediately, and with absolute certainty, the gender to which a given toy belongs.

On previous trips, I’d already learned that the sections of the store were clearly delineated as “boy” or “girl” departments, though the well-researched and no doubt heavily tested layout was much more complex than simply drawing a line down the middle of the store (which would perhaps be admitting to much, even for a place as obviously gendered as Toys “R” Us). Rather, the twists and turns make sure you at least cover the opposing gender’s territory, even if you think you have no interest in buying toys from those sections. Last time I was there, I turned the corner of the board game section (thinking I’d find what I was looking for there, since I hadn’t found it yet*) to find myself awash in the blinding and ironically stomach-churning Pepto-Bismol realm of Barbie.

At any rate, this time around I paid a little more attention to the gender divide within sections, and I began by taking a few snapshots of some of the more obvious examples of the assistance provided by the team effort of manufacturer’s packaging and store layout. I don’t think the following photos really require much comment:

Boy or Girl?

Boy or Girl?

Boy or Girl?

Boy or Girl?

As I mentioned earlier, such stereotyping should come as no surprise to anyone, and I’m hardly the first person to observe or report it. If this were all I had to say about my trip to Toys “R” Us, I would have just grumbled all this to myself and perhaps chuckled to myself (a little uncomfortably) as I looked at the pictures. But what interested me most was what came next.

I’d meant to take more pictures and provide a somewhat more nuanced analysis of the interior of Toys “R” Us in general. Even though I’d started with the most obvious, I wanted to eventually go a little deeper. But I never got the chance, because evidently, taking pictures within Toys “R” Us is illegal (or simply against Corporate Policy, though the security guard’s reaction seemed to suggest–or actually believe–otherwise).

Our exchange went like this:

Security Guard (there always seems to be more security guards around in Toys “R” Us than clerks): Excuse me, sir, no photographs are allowed in the store.Me: Really? Isn’t this a public place?

SG: No photographs are allowed. There’s a sign at the front of the store.

Me: But I don’t understand. Why aren’t photos allowed?

SG: It’s store policy. You need to have permission from Corporate to take pictures inside the store.

Me: Can you tell me the reasoning behind this store policy? Are you worried that people will expose to the world the way the interiors of the stores look?

SG: Sir, it’s store policy. You can’t …

At this point, I gave in to my inevitable defeat (I wasn’t really interested in the conversation anymore anyway) and left the store to return to my desk and finish off my lunch hour by writing up this overly long post with a single not-so-meaty nugget: the many evils of Toys “R” Us include an unnecessarily unhealthy store layout and an unnecessarily restrictive privacy policy to cover up this fact.

Actually, perhaps I’m glossing over this “store policy” too lightly. It might actually be protecting the store more than I know. Who knows what I could have exposed with my camera and modest blog, if only I’d been allowed a few more shots …

  • I never did find Super Scrabble there last Christmas. The clerk had evidently never heard of the most popular word board game on the planet, on which this newer version is based.