Boy Toys and Girl Toys

First the good news: Hasbro is responding to McKenna Pope’s online petition to market the Easy-Bake Oven in a more gender-neutral way, including adding pictures of boys to the marketing.

McKenna was prompted by her 4-year-old brother’s interest in cooking, and wondered why, in a field publicly dominated by men such as Emeril, toy companies still chose to make cooking a “girls” thing.

When I was four, five, six, I was a lot like McKenna’s brother. I was a little boy who loved to cook, or to pretend to cook. I even owned a chef’s hat. But in 1990, when I turned 6, the idea of marketing cooking toys to boys was pretty unheard of. So when I opened one of the presents at my party — a cooking set called “Now You’re Cooking”, which I cannot find any reference to on the internet — my first reaction was to declare “That’s a girl toy!”

I pretty much spent the next 20 years in constant guilt over insulting a present upon opening it. But why would I think to declare that? Well, because the dishes were turquoise and pink, and the packaging showed three girls using the set.

In the following months, that was the present I used the most. It was a set of microwave-safe dishes and a stack of recipe cards, so that children could make food. Not unlike the Easy Bake oven at all, really.

I was reminded of that story last night when browsing the toy department at Target looking for Christmas gifts for my nieces. The toys marketed to boys were awesome: wearable action video cameras, walkie talkie watches, building sets. And “for girls”? Princess dolls. My first thought was that no one could see this dichotomy that is forced on our children from young ages and come away with the belief that gender roles are “natural”.

I was also reminded of this Saturday Morning Breakfast Cereal cartoon:

All the “girl toys”… what do they do? Ever since my nieces were young, I’ve tried to buy them presents that promote creativity or reasoning skills. Blocks, games of skill, books. (Unless they are still infants, in which case stuffed animals are the way to go).

My first choice, actually, was Goldie Blox. But I went to the website, and those won’t be released for several months.

Ultimately, while it’s encouraging that Hasbro has made this choice with the Easy Bake oven, there is still quite an uphill battle with toys and gender roles. With Pink Ouija Boards and Legos for Girls, it’s easy to think it’s a losing battle. But, like McKenna Pope, we can’t be silent.

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