Sunday, March 25, 2018

it's a man's world

I was in Barnes & Noble yesterday, just to kill some time. Every time I go in to Barnes & Noble, I am surprised that it still exists. It's a big, cavernous maze of a building filled with hundreds and hundreds of books. Actual books in a time when most people a.) don't read. b.) if they do read, they read from a Kindle or some other type of electronic, paperless reading device. The fact that Barnes & Noble maintains a physical inventory, as well as trying to compete with the mighty Amazon with an online presence, is just plain baffling. Just ask Borders or B. Dalton about how futile a task that is. This past holiday season once again showed Barnes & Noble a reason to reassess its business model. Their sales were down considerably. In my stroll through the store, I discovered a glaring display that should make Barnes & Noble rethink more than its lagging income. Or perhaps one of its contributing factors. 

In addition to the numerous shelves of books, Barnes & Noble stocks a wide variety of magazines. Usually situated along the longest, continuously straight wall in the place, the magazine section, called "The Newsstand," features familiar titles like People, Rolling Stone, Us, National Geographic and others that still, inexplicably, print an actual copy in these days of immediate online information sources.

I filed past the in-store cafe, its many tables occupied by folks hunched over a keyboard or a cellphone, taking advantage of the free WiFi. The smell of brewed coffee followed me to the wall of magazines. Adjacent to the longest, multi-shelf magazine rack was a display highlighting a special sponsored issue of Time or Life or some other revered publication. Under the large "Newsstand" sign, the rest of the many magazines were grouped in sections identified by smaller signs printed in the branded colors of deep green and cream. "Current Events," was followed by "Family," where copies of Disney Princess sat cheek-by-jowl with Mad. The next section was labeled "Entertainment," where the latest issue of heavy-metal periodical Kerrang! was placed alongside several titles that sported some unidentifiable teens in torn clothes with glitter splashed across their sneering young faces. Laying on a riser in neatly stacked piles were issues of In Touch and Ok!, their colorful covers boasting someone I can only assume was a Kardashian. The next sections were the ones that made me stare in disbelief and then cringe.

The first section was labeled "Womens' Interests." On these tiered shelves was a collection of magazines whose subjects ranged from cooking to knitting to crafts then back to cooking. The covers showed either meticulously-styled beauty shots of fresh-from-the-oven, restaurant-quality entrees or pink and fuzzy, knotted yarn bunnies. There was pack after pack of similarly-photographed covers until it ended at the next section, one designated with a "Mens' Interests" sign. This section was filled with publications sporting muscular men flexing their rippling bodies in various poses, angry-looking guys tightly gripping a basketball alongside covers with malevolent-looking firearms spattered below matter-of-fact mastheads that read "GUNS." I looked around and I was actually the only person in the store looking at magazines. Surprisingly, there were no crowds of women with cooking utensils, wielding pinking shears trying to get past me. There weren't any buff gentlemen toting free weights and AR-15s, pushing me out of the way of the shelves. There was only me. Standing there. Disgusted.

In these times of equal rights awareness and inclusion and the recent #MeToo movement, aren't these labels a bit... um.... counterproductive? Especially, when this narrow-minded, exclusionary, antiquated mindset is being proliferated by a major retailer. Aren't magazines just magazines? Open to anyone's particular area of interest — regardless of sex, race or society's predetermination. I stood for a few moments — by myself — and shook my head in disappointment. I thought about how other big retailers displayed similar sexist labels. Instantly, the store layout of Toys R Us popped into my mind with its familiar "pink" aisle chock full of Barbie and her pals and accessories, noticeably separated from the thick and stocky action figures of popular wrestlers and rugged GI Joe. I know plenty of boys who have no problem playing with Barbie and GI Joe. I know lots of girls who love watching wrestling on television and enjoy make-believe with the likes of a miniature John Cena, as well as fashion dolls. Sure some Toys R Us stores showed some integration of the "boys" and "girls" toys, but there is a discernible "no man's land" between the two.

Barnes & Noble should take a hard look at their labels and a harder look at Toys R Us.... 'cause we now know where Toys R Us is headed.

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