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After seeing "Wonder Woman" last week, Katie Hinde was feeling fired up and empowered, and she wanted to share that enthusiasm. The 37-year-old associate professor at a university in Phoenix, Arizona, decided to swing by Target to look for a "Wonder Woman" T-shirt for her young cousin's birthday.
But to Hinde's disappointment, there were no "Wonder Woman" T-shirts to be found (Hint, hint, retailers!)
"Once I realized there wasn't what I was looking for, I started to survey what was there," Hinde told TODAY Parents. "And the whole time, the boys 'NASA' T-shirts were visible from nearly all of the sections I was walking through."
Hinde decided the boys' section had plenty of "science pizzazz," in her words, but the girls' section needed more of it. So, she grabbed some of the boys' "NASA" tank tops and placed them front and center in the girls' section instead.
Hinde snapped a picture and posted it to her Twitter account with the caption, "Did I just take a bunch of NASA tank tops from the boys' section and put them in the girls' section? Yes. Yes I did." The tweet garnered over 26,000 retweets before Hinde made her account private after receiving an onslaught of both praise and sometimes searing criticism.
Though Hinde did not identify Target in her tweet in an effort to make a larger statement that didn't single out the retailer, many commenters recognized the store and the merchandise.
In an essay Hinde posted on her website after the resulting "unexpected Twitter storm," she called switching the merchandise's store placement a "tiny-scale, subversive, nonviolent, direct action" in response to finding herself surrounded by "too much stereotypically gendered clothing" in the girls' clothing section.
Hinde praised Target for carrying girls' "NASA" shirts as well, but pointed out that while the boys' shirts were easy to find at at children's eye levels in her local store, the girls' versions were much harder to find and less prominently displayed in places a little girl would see them.
Hinde said she hung the tops on lower rungs "so that the 'NASA' would be at eye level to a little girl walking by. When I was a kid at these stores I never looked up," she said. "I was always looking right in front of me, or down."
Hinde is married but does not have children herself. However, "As a scientist who works on inclusivity in academia and science, I spend a lot of time thinking about the pipeline," she wrote in her essay. "I am particularly concerned about the scarcity and disparity of science and science fiction-oriented toys, clothes, and outreach for girls."
Though parents of girls can just shop for them in the boys' sections, Hinde said research shows children are already sensitive to gender stereotyping by the age of 18-24 months. "This means many girls will perceive that the 'boy' clothes and the themes featured there are not for themselves," she wrote.
For those tempted to engage in "tiny-scale" actions of their own, Hinde, who worked in retail for 10 years herself, has some advice. "In these box stores, there are often things dangling off hangers that have fallen off the shelf," she said.
"If folks are going to move merchandise to disrupt stereotypes, do some tidying up so you aren't adding to the staff's time and effort, and don't move the merchandise too far," she suggested.