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1/02/2007
Gender Stereotyping at McDonald's
I've always been absolutely positive that I would never be guilty of reinforcing gender stereotypes in my children. As a child I played with trucks just as much as baby dolls and I now work in a very male dominated field of the law. My parents expected my brother and me to alternate washing dishes and mowing the lawn. B and I hated both chores equally. As a parent, I vowed to do the same. I would ensure that my daughters and my sons were treated equally and would go forth into the world expecting and demanding the same treatment throughout their lives and careers. Of course, you would never catch me dressing my daughter solely in pink and frills and she would never, ever own an Easy Bake Oven. Smug in my enlightened superiority, I have never really reexamined my views since actually becoming a parent. Occasionally T and I will have a spirited discussion about whether or not Hollis's choice of the pink Dora toothbrush or the pink and purple fish sippy cup is socially acceptable, but that's been about it. (FYI, I'm all for the pink toothbrush but T is slightly against it.) However, last week I was forced to look at my own behavior after an innocent trip to McDonald's.

So call me naive, ignorant, or just plain stupid, but I had no idea that McDonald's had "boy" and "girl" toys for their Happy Meals. When we swung through the drive through after a trip to the Children's Museum on Saturday, the cashier taking our order asked if the Happy Meal we ordered was for a girl or a boy. Flustered, I answered "boy," but honestly had no idea why they asked. It only occurred to me as we pulled up to the window that the toys were different for girls and boys. On the occasions when Hollis has gotten Happy Meals in the past, he's been with us in the restaurant and we were never given a toy choice. I guess everyone just assumed he wanted the "boy" toy because, looking back on it, he's never received anything remotely girly, pink, or even Disney in his earlier Happy Meals. (This time Hollis ended up getting some sort of dragon Yu-gi-oh thing but I have no idea what the "girl" toy was. It might have been much cooler. The dragon thing only held Hollis's interest for a few minutes and then he handed it over to his brother for chewing.)

After I worked myself up into a lather over McDonald's policy of gender stereotyping our nation's children, it occurred to me that I haven't been much better. I don't overtly hand out "girl" and "boy" toys but almost all of my toy choices for H&H have been traditional boy or gender neutral toys. They have lots of blocks, toy cars, trucks, books about trucks, truck puzzles, and truck jammies, but no baby dolls. Despite the fact that Hollis loves to try to help us cook and clean, he doesn't even have a toy kitchen or pots and pans. The closest we've come to encouraging the domestic arts in my son is the toy vacuum cleaner that we routinely hide in the closet because the constant whirring of the motor drives us insane. So, for all of my talk about raising children outside of the boundaries of traditional sexual stereotypes, I've fallen right into the "boy" toy trap myself.

So how do I fix this? I need to look more closely at whether or not I'm unconsciously steering my boys in a certain direction and make sure that I allow them to make choices. T and I already model the behaviors and attitudes we want to instill in our boys, so I am positive that they will grow up to be strong, independent men who respect and seek out strong, independent women. What we do in our home is the easy part. What concerns me more are the attitudes H&H will encounter once they leave our home - for daycare, school, sports, and, of course, McDonald's. I just hope that I can help them develop enough self-confidence to ask for the "girl" toys they want and the wisdom to ignore what anyone says about their choices.

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7 Comments:

Blogger scribbit said...

I agree with you, but it's funny, my boys came out playing with trucks and playing rough while my girls are naturally girly. I can't tell what combination of events has produced this but there it is, they are very different.

Blogger PunditMom said...

R. is a girly girl, but also enjoys the soccer field, so I guess we're doing OK. Having said that, the grandparents did give her ans Easy Bake Oven for her birthday! :O

Blogger ExPatSW said...

So, shall Aunt P send kitchen ware for the H's? Although, you might reconsider the Easy Bake stance....I think big H would love it!

Blogger Alpha Dogma said...

I think it is easier to cross or bend gender lines when you have daughters. The label tom-boy is so much less judgemental than sissy.

I bought my kids a toy iron. Small, purple. A quarter at a garage sale. Thought I was being such a good feminist.
Came home and passed it to my sons. "Oooh. Like mommy's!" They were so excited. Played with it for days, kept saying it was just like mommy's. The whole time I kept getting more and more angry. Gender stereotyping! Sexists! Not even in school yet and already making gender divisions. Grrrr....
Another week went by and I realized they kept running the iron over smooth wood surfaces in the house, while making a low frequency hum sound. Turns out they'd thought it looked like my mini-mouse sander. The one I used to refinish the kitchen cabinets.
Score 1 point for feminism!

Blogger Alpha Dogma said...

Let me just clarify: I'm not endorsing the sexist, small minded notions that leads to the labels of tomboy vs. gender. My point was that we, as parents, seem to want to keep our kids free of the kind of baggage that can limit or even damage their self-image.
Okay. Thanks for indulging me with that clarification.

Blogger bubandpie said...

I think it's easy to exaggerate the importance of toys in forming gender identity. With a boy and a girl, I've got plenty of both types of toys. The Pie plays with lots of trucks and planes, but she also loves dolls and stole her brother's Cabbage Patch Kid (the one that had been sitting untouched in his bedroom for a year). And Bub loves the kitchen set and always has to lend a hand with sweeping the floor. By and large, though, they stick to their stereotypically gendered toys.

It's normal for kids to go through a phase of placing exaggerated importance on their gender, even to the point of making additional rules for what boys and girls can and cannot do. I think if they have positive role models that's just a stage they outgrow.

Blogger M said...

I enjoyed this post a lot. Writing a paper for school right now on this very subject, and I found your post very informative.

One thing though...you don't want gender stereotyping?

"T and I already model the behaviors and attitudes we want to instill in our boys, so I am positive that they will grow up to be strong, independent men who respect and seek out strong, independent women."

It's entirely possible that your boys will end up with strong, independent men.

Sorry, just being obnoxiously politically correct right now ;) Thanks for the post though! I really enjoyed it.

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