In 2018, Why Are There Still Boys’ and Girls’ Toys?

Hey, various fast food-places that serve their kids’ food with a toy: can we stop calling them “boy” and “girl” toys already?

The other day I took my tiny geek to grab a quick lunch from the Subway in Ridgedale mall. When the cashier was assembling my daughter’s meal, an apology was included. “I’m sorry, we only have boys’ toys,” the cashier said, placing a ham sandwich into the bag apparently not meant for someone who doesn’t identify as male. This bag, by the way, that was so masculine that it required an apology, featured Chewbacca.

Firstly, who doesn’t love Chewbacca? He’s shown to be fiercely loyal, plays a mean game of Dejarik, and probably gives the best hugs ever. Secondly, the bag was a leftover promotion from The Force Awakens, which hit theaters two and a half years ago. My daughter didn’t mind about that particular fact, but isn’t that the more egregious issue at hand?

I know it seems like a small thing, except it’s not. There are groups of people who see it as their sacred duty to keep Star Wars as “male” as possible. Recently, they gleefully chased Kelly Marie Tran, who portrayed Rose in the recent Star Wars: The Last Jedi, off of social media. And yes, in comparison to targeted harassment, a fast-food employee casually saying that a bag featuring a male Star Wars character is for boys is fairly small potatoes. The thing is, though, those small things normalize the big things.

Kids pay attention, and they learn to navigate the social norms and mores of the world by observing the cues they see from others. Part of the job of a parent is to help your kids make sense of what they’re seeing, but sometimes, there’s only so much the parent can do. At a certain point they get it from their peers as well, and if their peers are also subject to the weird gender-based gatekeeping that marketing groups love to do, then parental encouragement can get overridden.

If it seems like this complaint sounds incredibly familiar, it is. Periodically, articles and essays will pop up on the subject. In 2014, Antonia Ayres-Brown wrote an excellent piece on her efforts to get McDonald’s to examine the way it handles Happy Meal prize distribution. (Side note—she was a high-school junior when she wrote it and talked about her efforts over the past four years. She rocks!) McDonald’s even responded, and it seemed like a company-wide policy would be enacted. Problem solved, right? Ha! Just do a quick Google search and see how many laments on this topic there have been since that point. Every single time I’ve treated my kid to the rare Happy Meal (and there is a choice in prize), I’ve still been asked “Girl or boy?”

I’m sure I’m part of the problem in that I’ve been too Minnesotan about how I’ve given my response to the question. Thus far, worried about being polite to the people behind me in line, I’ve generally given a response that passive-aggressively says the name of the toy, such as “Oh, I’d like the Teen Titans Go! Happy Meal, please.” Maybe I should start playing dumb, instead saying, “Which is which?” Maybe I should start contacting stores directly each time, or even corporate?

I know I’m not alone in this, but kids shouldn’t be made to feel like there’s something wrong for preferring one toy over another. Furthermore, there are plenty of kids and toy collectors who aren’t gender conforming. So, when it comes to toys made for kids, how about leaving gender out entirely?

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