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Toy Story.

Several weeks ago, the Wall Street Journal ran a long, fascinating article about the toy industry. Seemingly, after decades of experimenting with selling gender-neutral toys to both sexes, a number of toy manufacturers, department stores, and marketers were going back to their old policy of selling one set of toys to boys and an entirely different set of toys to girls.

The article emphasized that this marketing risorgimento had not been met with universal enthusiasm outside the industry itself. According to Pamela Haag, director of research at the American Association of University Women's Educational Foundation, gender marketing was "very out of step with what adult men and women are doing" and "anachronistic." And a Maryland woman named Ann Hendrix-Jenkins had become so incensed when she discovered that her local Toys "R" Us had built separate toy departments entitled "Boy's World" and "Girl's World" that she organize a massive protest.

According to the Journal, Ms. Hendrix-Jenkins' has already signed more than a dozen organizations to support her campaign, including the D.C. based Women's Reproductive Health Initiative, the Feminist Karate Union of Seattle, and the Men & Fathers Resource Center, of Austin, TX.

When I read about Ms. Hendrix-Jenkins' grass-roots campaign, my keen journalistic instincts told me that Toys "R" Us was in for the fight of its life. Speaking as the father of a 16-year-old girl whose bedroom is festooned with Philadelphia Flyers memorabilia, a girl who will move heaven and earth to see Eric Lindros and the Broad Street Bullies at Madison Square Garden, the Nassau Coliseum, and the First Union Center in Philadelphia, I realized that this Boy's World/Girl's World bifurcation was a tricky proposition and that toy makers and retail outlets alike had to be very careful not to alienate sensitive parents. Or, for that matter, parents whose daughters actually professed to enjoy professional ice hockey.

But what really piqued my interest was the presence of both the Feminist Karate Union of Seattle and the Men & Fathers Resource Center in Ms. Hendrix-Jenkins' impressive array of allies. Surely, if the Feminist Karate Union of Seattle has already joined the lists in the fight against gender marketing, the Feminist Karate Center of Tacoma, the Feminist Karate Center of Spokane, and the Feminist Karate Center of Walla-Walla can't be far behind.

It's only a matter of time before the Women's Ju-Jitsu League of Portland, the Ladies Tai-Chi Association of Eugene, and the Gals Tae-Bo League of Greater Boise join the fray. And once the Feminist White-Collar Boxing Center of Louisville and the Women's Martial Arts Society of Akron climb on board, Toys "R" Us could find itself facing a veritable juggernaut.

Indeed, since Ms. Hendrix-Jenkins' campaign is directed against a store in Langley Park, MD, I was initially puzzled by why she should have enlisted the Feminist Karate Union of Seattle in her struggle in the first place. The obvious explanation is that Langley may not yet have its own Feminist Karate Union, so the organizer of the protest was forced to seek aid and succor from far-flung allies. But then the genius of Ms. Hendrix-Jenkins' strategy dawned upon me. By enlisting the support of a Seattle based feminist martial arts organization, this gallant Toys "R" Us nemesis virtually assured a broader-based insurgency against gender marketing, preventing toy companies from waging an entirely regional counterattack.

Moreover, by lining up the support of Austin's Men & Fathers Resource Center, Ms. Hendrix-Jenkins made it impossible for her target to dismiss the movement as the work of a few disenchanted female consumers. Surely, in the fullness of time, the Men & Fathers Resource Center of Austin will be joined by the Fathers & Sons Activist League of Dallas, the Gender Sensitive Guys of Galveston, and the Pro Feminist Hunks of Houston. At that point, the revolt will probably spread like wildfire across the hinterland, and before you know it everyone from the Concerned Chaps of Chicago to the Feminist Fellows of Flint will lock arms in the burgeoning phalanx arrayed against the nation's top toy manufacturers. Not since Napoleon Bonaparte faced the combined armies of England, Prussia, Russia, Sweden, and points north has one mighty power been pitted in such an unequal struggle against such an array of determined, resourceful adversaries.

What should Toys "R" Us do in a situation such as this? Frankly, I think the time has come to throw in the towel. Now that Ms. Hendrix-Jenkins' campaign has spread to other geographical regions of the country, localities where prosperity reigns, the fire cannot easily be extinguished. Yes, it's going to cost a pretty penny to junk the remodeling plans at all 707 of the chain's stores, but why bother fighting a battle that is already lost? It says here that when the Feminist Karate Union of Seattle sets out to kick your butt, your butt stays kicked.

Take a 10-count, you guys at Toys "R" Us. You're outmanned.
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Article Details
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Author:Queenan, Joe
Publication:Chief Executive (U.S.)
Article Type:Brief Article
Geographic Code:1USA
Date:May 1, 2000
Words:815
Previous Article:Beyond the Euro: Rethinking Competitiveness.
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