Skepticism

Fast Food Toys: The Pinnacle of Sexism

In which the author neglects to write important, upcoming event related blogness and instead bitches about toys.

When I go to fast food joints, I tend to go for the kids’ meal. They’re cheap, contain fewer french fries for me to eat until they’re gone no matter how full I am, and they come with a toy. For the nerdy Skepchick who refuses to grow up, what’s not to love?

Well, inevitably, I leave the drive-thru fuming, because of the insidious, yet so routine question, “Is this for a boy or a girl?” I never give them the straight answer they’re going for. Yeah, I’m that annoying bitch. I make them describe the toys to me. See, most of the time, the “boy” toy is something cool and action-y; something you can actually play with. The “girl” toy is something to wear to make you “pretty”, or maybe a fake cell phone.

Today’s prize was Flip ‘N’ Fly War MachineTM from Burger King. It was the “boy” toy, if you haven’t guessed. To be honest, I thought it was sort of lame at first; it’s a molded plastic action figure that attaches to a little trigger thingy and flips up and down. Oh, and his arms are mobile. So yeah, pretty stupid, until one of my coworkers figured out it’s true purpose:

Humping.

After this discovery, I can safely say I got my money’s worth.

The “girl” option offered was a mirror. Well, actually, according to BK, it’s an Iron ManTM Message Board. It’s basically a mirror with a dry erase marker, from what I can tell. You know, so you can write messages to your friends. Cuz, you know, girls are social. Other options include Iron Man 2 related plastic necklaces and a bracelet.

This has me thinking of doing a series of interviews with kids in fast food joints, if I thought I could actually pull it off without coming off as a total creepazoid weirdo. Seriously, I know there are big time marketing geniuses in charge of all this, but I wonder how much of it is just self reinforcing. I mean, if you identify the toys as being gender specific, you’re putting pressure on kids to accept the roles those toys signify: boys=action; girls=pretty. Going for the opposite gendered toy is sort of a big deal, in the landscape of kids’ worlds. There’s a lot of gender boundary policing going on. Most kids would rather conform than live with the teasing.

Not that I’m suggesting it’s somehow wrong for kids to actually like the gender “appropriate” toy, either. I just wish kids could figure out for themselves what it means to be a girl or a boy without so much outside pressure. I was fortunate enough to be raised by a “tom-boy” mom and a “softie” dad, and don’t remember ever being encouraged or discouraged from doing anything on the basis of gender.

I know, I know, all this over some lame ass kids’ meal toys. But it seriously pisses me off.

Alright, rant over. Excuse me while I cheer myself up by making War Machine hump random things in my room.

*ahem*

Okay, seriously, stay tuned for a Skepchicon update later today.

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63 Comments

  1. My kids usually pick fast-food joints that have the best kid’s meal toys (they could care less about the food) but I agree, the “girls” toys are always lame. My 7 year old daughter doesn’t seem to care that she always makes me ask for the “boy” toys – hope she keeps that shelf-confidence as she gets older.

  2. I am a teenager and I work for a certain fast food store that has kids meals with gender specific toys.
    When I started working I felt really uncomfortable asking people if they wanted a boy or girl toy.
    So much so, that I would just give them whatever toy I grabbed first.

    The thing is, I soon found that parents would say things such as, “do you have any boy/girl toys? My child will just throw that one out.”

    I find I am way more comfortable giving out toys that are non-gender specific. Customers don’t seem to like that though.

    A recent toy that we gave out with kids meals was a computer disc. There were four different looking ones, but they all had the same game on them. One shift, I only had the ones with pink covers to give out and had quite a few customers leaving without toys, many of them quite annoyed.

    The whole thing does bother me a little.

  3. But, but, but… Evolutionary psychology teaches us that, back on the Savannah (I didn’t know we came from Georgia, did you? But we did! Science!), there were fitness benefits associated with these gender roles! You know, men were hunting and women were barefoot in the kitchen making sandwiches. So it would have been advantageous for the boys to play with humping War Machine toys, because it taught them the importance of wearing armour during battle AND of having sex to propagate the species! Whereas women gained a reproductive advantage by writing things on mirrors like, “Oh God I’m so fat why did I eat that pint of ice cream?” and “I should always give blowjobs when demanded of me, even if I don’t feel like it just then”. Because science says those things incease reproductive fitness. Really, it does, just trust me on this.

    So, you see, really the Happy Meals are just trying to bring us back to our hunter-gatherer ideal for which we evolved! It’s evolution! Why are you denying this? Do you hate evolution? Ugh, you’re just as bad as creationists if you don’t admit the plainly obvious fact that women evolved to serve the whims of men, who should never be questioned, criticised, or contradicted, especially when they cheat on you. Because that’s totally evolution, too.

  4. Agreed. I was with a male in Walmart one day and he saw something he liked, but then said “oh this is the girls’ section” and put it down. I think they were plaid pajama pants or something. I was like “so what? if the sign wasn’t here telling you it’s the girls’ section, you wouldn’t even know the difference and could just choose what you want rather than having the store tell you what’s appropriate”. He was like “it’s different for guys” and wouldn’t even consider it anymore.

    I’m with you on the fast food toys too. Rather than just have a set of toys promoting, say Cars, there are the cars for boys and Barbies for girls. Did girls not watch the movie Cars or something? What has Barbie done lately? Oh right, she has a vagina and is pink. She’s like the default girl toy when they can’t think of anything. So props to the Iron Man people for *trying* to provide something to girls, I guess.

    It’s not lame to think about this stuff. The toys are a small example of the gender stereotyping that puts pressure on kids to act a certain way and puts pressure on parents to possibly overcompensate in trying to give their kids more choices. It creates both stereotypes and backlash. Needless stress really, when the solution is so simple: let kids decide what they want to play with. Fun is fun, isn’t it?

  5. Actually what has *really* pissed me of in the past (when I did actually buy kids-meals for my kids) was the occasional refusal to give me the ‘boy’ toys for my daughters.

    “But they’re girls!!!”

    “Do I look like I give a shit?”

  6. Nothing wrong with women’s clothing that’s actually unisex clothing which happens to be hanging in the women’s section.

    But actual women’s clothing, well, let’s see, the shirts button the wrong way, they could have some excess fabric in the chest area, and the shoulders are usually too small. And the pants are often too big at the hips (and might button up the wrong way too).

    I think shoes are the only thing where you can’t really go wrong (except for the obvious).

  7. This is something that has always bothered me. It seemed so unfair to me when I was small that the boys get the “cool” toys, while I got stuck with a piece of pink junk. I’m generally a fairly girly girl, too – just one that prefered (and prefers) her comic book superheroes to Barbie.

    After all, all Barbie really does is change clothes, and anyone can do that. Superheroes get much neater outfits, and then go off and save the world in them.

  8. How long has this been happening? I have a 2.5 year old and up until now I have ordered off the regular menu and shared the meal with him. I did order a kid’s meal once and was surprised to be asked “boy” or “girl” toy. He got a Star Wars toy. The other day my husband asked for the “toddler toy” and he got a purple ball. Purple! Clearly a girl colour. Well that went into the trash right away, of course. Oh no wait, he liked playing with it so we let him keep it. I can’t believe people wouldn’t give a “boy” toy if there are girls in your car! Unbelievable.
    We have gone to Wendy’s and weren’t asked. He once got a “Word Girl” (a cartoon series where the heroine is a girl with a big vocabulary) toy and a stuffed frog.
    As an aside, he got these few fast-food outlet toys over the past few months and he still plays with all of them. Now that’s weird.

  9. I fully expect video of the humpathon. Please.

    I was always shocked by how “girly” my daughter was. She wanted to wear frilly dresses and fancy shoes when all I wanted was overalls and bare feet. I was actually sort of relieved that my next two were boys, but one of them is very lovey and likes babies and stuff, which is awesome. I just sort of follow their lead, but if I had my druthers (what the hell are druthers, anyway?) I would just go to places that give you books and CDs with the meals. Unless some day they come out with like a Space Ghost toy or something really cool. Or maybe The Tick…

  10. One of the key things that turned me from a bright eyed rosy cheeked adorable child into the cynical snarky bastard I am today is my loss of faith in the mcDonaldsetc toys. I remember when it was for the re-release of Snowwhite…and the toys were office supplies made in the style of some of the characters. I remember slowly realizing as I saw the Raven Paper Binder “…wow…this isn’t….fun”.

    Realizing they were just throwing cheap crap at us without caring whether it was fun broke my heart that day…

  11. Why does there have to be a toy with food anyway? Just buy your kid a burger then take them to a toy store to choose a toy they want rather than the one the marketing tie-in decides to inflict on them.

  12. Great, next week I’ll get to add a humping robot dude to our kid’s meal toy collection when Carr2d2 comes home. However, Mr. HumpyRobotGuy also serves another purpose…..to fuck with our cats. And by “fuck” i mean to mess with, as I do not endorse Robot-on-Cat fornicating….until it is written clearly into the constitution.

    Now if you’ll excuse me, I am going to Arby’s and get myself a bedazzled tiara with my breakfast so I can be the pretty princess my parents always implied me to be.

  13. When I get kids’ meals for my brood I tend to pre-select the toy I think my kids will enjoy the most and tell them gender based off of that. Sometimes they get cars. Sometimes they get bracelets. We tend to let them chose what they play with and provide them with items “for” either.

    I haven’t had any problems getting toys for either gender. And the girl toys don’t always suck.

  14. I have boy-girl twins. We need to have the same toy. This is nearly impossible to get the person taking the orders to understand. Often, I find the girls toys to be more appropriate for both. My kids are little and not into action figures, so the stuffed pink kitty easily wins over the big guy with the guns.

  15. I’ve got a 4yo son and it still irks me when he plays with dolls. I keep my trap shut about it, because I know I’m wrong and I’m trying not to infect him with my prejudices (oh no, he might learn to be caring and gentle). A girl playing with a boy toy wouldn’t trouble me as much for some reason. Also, he has a black Cabbage Patch Kid and we’re white, which also feels wrong, but I can’t for the life of me understand why, so again, trap tightly shut.

  16. What has Barbie done lately?
    Why, she got herself a degree in Computer Engineering!
    http://shop.mattel.com/product/index.jsp?productId=4032107
    I’m sure there’ll be a long discussion about it being a good or bad thing, but I at least like it. Well, not creepy like, but think it is good to show girls a Barbie in non-traditional roles.
    And yes, I *am* geeky enough that I verified the binary on the computer is ASCII for “barbie”!
    The “comfortable shoes” really cracks me up because my real-life Computer Engineer Angie(tm) always comes with them as well.

  17. I don’t think I was ever asked if the toy was for a boy or a girl. I think in the UK you just get given a toy. At least that’s how it was when I was a kid!

    I don’t have kids, so I can’t say what it’s like now. Although, if I did, I’d probably be inclined to ask them which one they wanted. My mum always let us have the toys we wanted when we were kids, so I ended up with Action Man and guns, and my brother had a baby doll. We were weird kids…

  18. @BarelyKnitTogether:

    “I’d rather” after a couple of drinks = druthers.

    They usually have pictures up for the Kid Meal Toy of the Moment. My kids would pick what they wanted before we even ordered. Our family favorite was McDonald’s mini beanie babies. My boys would fight with them or tease the dog and my daughter still has hers displayed as a collection.

  19. @Kimbo Jones:

    I was like “so what? if the sign wasn’t here telling you it’s the girls’ section, you wouldn’t even know the difference and could just choose what you want rather than having the store tell you what’s appropriate”. He was like “it’s different for guys” and wouldn’t even consider it anymore.

    It is different for guys. There is a powerful social sanction against men for being effeminate. I’m convinced it’s responsible for most of the anti-gay animus (yes I realise there’s nothing effeminate about being gay, but I think the ant-gay activists would disagree), but it affects everything we do, and it means that men have a strong aversion against anything tailored toward women. It shouldn’t be that way, but it is. Men with an interest in feminine pursuits usually find that out the hard way when they get to High School.

  20. @James K: Don’t fool yourself. We’re still living in a heavily sexist and anti-gay culture despite how far we’ve come. It’s all over the media and politics. Hilary Clinton and Sarah Palin got marked up for how good (or bad) they looked before anyone commented on what they said or did, and every commercial or movie or TV show that shows a family almost always either shows the mom taking care of the house and kids without a job or if she has a job, she’s ALSO taking care of the house and kids. Dad just works. I understand that it doesn’t reflect real society, but those stereotypes are real and much more common than we want to admit to others.

    And being homosexual is still “weird”.. even when it is accepted.

    This is the enlightened society we tell everyone we live in.

  21. About the guy not wanting to buy women’s pants, it might partly be a practical issue. Women’s pants don’t tend to have any extra space in the crotch, leaving no place for a guy’s junk to hang out. Walking might be all right, but he might get a nasty “wedgie” if he sat down. Just a possiblity, anyway.

    My son cares for his stuffed toys because his both his mom and dad care for him. It doesn’t weird me (or my husband) out that he does this. He has little people toys of several races and he often picks the little black boys to play with as he is a little black boy, but sometimes plays with “white” toys as his parents are white. No problems there either.

  22. We don’t do much fast food, but when we do, I offer my daughter the choice. Sometimes she picks one or the other, and then I request that for her. The movie ones tend to be less gendered, and she likes those best anyway.

    Most recently when faced with a choice between Barbie mermaids or Hot Wheels race cars with little men in them, she chose, “Race car with a super hero!” It flips open on impact and this amuses her, so all is well. And the My Little Pony she got last year lives with her dinosaurs.

    It bugs me a bit on a general “you shouldn’t be so gendered” sort of level but really, as a parent, it’s fine as long as nobody ever says she can’t have the “boy” toy.

  23. Personally this really bothers me, as a kid I liked “boy” toys, girl toys were boring, what can you do with a pink bracelet? Toy cars are waaay more fun! Luckily my parents would let me have whatever I chose, but I remember being stuck with “girl” toys many times just because the fast food people refused to give me “boy” toys just because I’m a girl… And believe it or not I remember it because it hurt me…
    Also, thanks for the great article… Up to now I thought I was the only one bothered by that…

  24. @marilove:
    I don’t think its so much misogyny as the perceived violation of gender norms. Misogyny is probably a correlate, rather than a primary cause.

    @swordsbane:
    I don’t think there’s anything there I’d disagree with, thought I don’t think its as bad here in New Zealand as it seems to be in the US (the fact that we’re far more secular is probably part of the reason for that).

  25. @James K: “the perceived violation of gender norms”

    Um. And why do you think they think the gender norms have been “violated”? Oh, that’s right — because oh dear, a guy may not stick to manly gender roles, and he may be feminine! Even though not all gay men are feminine, that’s what homophobes think: Being gay means you’re a woman, or maybe trying to act like a woman (even if you aren’t), or trying to take on the role of a woman (even if you aren’t).

    It’s not just a correlation; the link is undeniable.

    Why do you think homophobes are especially afraid of the super-effeminate gays?!

    This is a really, really good breakdown:

    http://www.leeds.ac.uk/educol/documents/160301.htm

    And this too:

    http://slog.thestranger.com/2008/02/misogynyhomophobiamisogynyhomophobia

    Well, no. “Effeminate” only dehumanizes men if you accept the premise that women are not fully human. Hutcherson’s homophobia (and Robinson’s more-than-implied misogyny) is based on the premise that, for a man, being perceived or treated as female is so insulting that violence is an appropriate reaction. Hutcherson hates gays not just because they engage in “abominations,” but because they challenge traditional gender roles. In the world of “men’s movement” men like Hutcherson, any challenge to those roles—men as warriors for God, women as their submissive helpmates—is “feminizing”: the ultimate insult.

    Homophobia is rooted in misogyny and not just a mere “cause”. There is no doubt about that.

  26. @marilove: And to expand yet again: While people tend to whole a special distaste for ultra-butch lesbians, lesbians are, as a whole, ignored, because their relationships aren’t taken seriously. Notice how these anti-gay fucktards rarely mention lesbians?

  27. @marilove:

    That’s because a lot of fucktard thought denies implicitly the concept of female sexuality/sex drive. the idea that women are effectively asexual beings who engage in coitus mainly to appease their pair bonded mate is prevalent in our society.

  28. @marilove:

    Homophobia is rooted in misogyny and not just a mere “cause”. There is no doubt about that.

    I think the societal idea that there is something wrong with a male exhibiting qualities stereotypically associated with females, i.e. being “effeminate,” is certainly a driving force for homophobia. I don’t really know that I’d define that as misogyny, however. I know plenty of men and women who think men should always be the ones carrying heavy objects, and women should not dress like men and vice versa, but who are not homophobes — in fact, many of whom have gay friends (some actually think it’s okay for the gay person but not for the non-gay person). Just to give you an idea of the diversity of ideas out there.

    Just because you see something through a particular lens is no guarantee other people are going to.

  29. To clarify, I think misogyny is about thinking females are inferior in some way.

    I don’t think it’s misogynistic to say that males should not dress like females. I think it’s misogynistic to say that males should not dress like females /because females are inferior/.

    But anyway, to the topic at hand, how many people have experience with boys preferring girls toys? I’ve seen the case many many times where girls prefer guys toys, but rarely hear stories about the opposite.

  30. @marilove:
    OK, I’m confused now. Like sporefrog, that’s not what I usually think of as misogyny. To me misogyny is holding women to be mentally or morally inferior to men, that’s not what I see happening here. This is about “proper” behaviour for men, not the moral status of women.

    For one thing I find it odd that an form of intolerance that is entirely about how men react to other men can be described as misogynist. And how can hatred of gay men for being “effeminate”, and hatred of “butch” lesbians for not being effeminate enough both be misogynist? If one is misogynist then surely one of them is misandrist?

    To me it’s not about men being superior to women, its about people who think real men all have to act a certain way, and that men who don’t are contemptible. Intolerance toward lesbians is similarly based on an unreasonably narrow view of proper behaviour for women. In neither case is it about the relative moral status of men and women.

  31. @James K:

    that’s not what I usually think of as misogyny.

    right. most people today would agree with that statement. but if you dig into our cultural history, and look at the trends and forces that created the binary gender system we have today, it becomes clear that the policing of maleness, and the taboos associated with men exhibiting femininity are indeed rooted in misogynistic ideas.

    To me it’s not about men being superior to women, its about people who think real men all have to act a certain way, and that men who don’t are contemptible

    but i think the very idea that “real” men have to act “like men” comes out of the idea that women are inferior. maybe that’s become separated out from how we view things today, but i think it’s a reasonable understanding of the roots of that contempt.

  32. @carr2d2:

    it becomes clear that the policing of maleness, and the taboos associated with men exhibiting femininity are indeed rooted in misogynistic ideas.

    This. Women have gone through so many years of oppression — and continue to be oppressed, in not-so-obvious ways in our own culture, and far more obvious ways in other cultures — because the general coconscious (among misogynists) is that males are superior and women are inferior. Women must “keep their place” — they must act like women. Breed, cook, clean. They should not “act like men” — men are superior, and therefore women are not suited to act like men.

    Women who don’t keep their place in society by “acting like women” are frowned upon because they are imposing into the male culture – they are acting like men, who are superior to women.

    However, at the same time, lesbianism is quite often ignored by the vocal homophobes; they “forget” about lesbians (unless directly asked) because to them, women’s sexuality doesn’t even exist.

    The very basis of homophobia is the fear of normal gender roles not being adhered to, and that fear is nearly always tethered to misogyny. Men must not act like women, and women must be kept in their place, which means not acting like men, who are are the superior gender.

    but i think the very idea that “real” men have to act “like men” comes out of the idea that women are inferior. maybe that’s become separated out from how we view things today, but i think it’s a reasonable understanding of the roots of that contempt.

    It is very much brought from that idea, and I don’t think it’s all that separated from how we view things today. Just take a look at transphobia, which exists even within the gay culture.

  33. @sporefrog:

    I know plenty of men and women who think men should always be the ones carrying heavy objects, and women should not dress like men and vice versa, but who are not homophobes

    You can ascribe to some mysogonist traditions without being a homophobe, or even particularly misogynist.

    Homophobia is a complex issue, but it is, at least to me, obviously rooted in misogyny, and I am by far not the first person to say make this connection.

    Also, please note the words roots and history — Do you honestly think Rekers (Mr. Rent Boy) doesn’t firmly believe that men should be men, and women should be women, and that women are inferior to men? Homophobes almost always adhere to rigid gender roles, at least to some extent.

  34. @marilove: D’oh! There are a few sentences missing!

    Also, please note the words roots and history — just take a look at the history of gay people being oppressed and discriminated against, in comparison to the oppression of women. The connection is clear.

    That said, many moder homophobes still view the world in that way — Do you honestly think Rekers (Mr. Rent Boy) doesn’t firmly believe that men should be men, and women should be women, and that women are inferior to men? Homophobes almost always adhere to rigid gender roles, at least to some extent.

  35. “I know plenty of men and women who think men should always be the ones carrying heavy objects, and women should not dress like men and vice versa, but who are not homophobes ”

    The carrying heavy objects thing could be an annoying side effect of gender dimorphism…at work I wind up having to carry a lot of things for my female workers simply because I’m the only one on the floor who can lift it -_-.

  36. @Ing213: Yeah, generally when people feel men should always carry the heavy objects, it’s because they believe men are (always) stronger than women, even if that’s not the case. It’s a sexist view to hold, to be sure, but a sexist view doesn’t necessarily make one a misogynist. A lot of the time, these views are held because that’s what they’ve been taught, and they’ve never considered otherwise.

    I used to work in the printing business, where I carried a LOT of heavy boxes of paper and packages of finished jobs. Some men would see me and insist they help, and some women would comment that I should get the men to help me. It was annoying and sexist, to be sure, but I wouldn’t call most of these people misogynists. Most would back off and say, “Oh, okay, cool” if I assured them I could handle it. Those who didn’t back off, I generally tagged as assholes and possible misogynists.

  37. @marilove: i run into the heavy objects thing at work frequently, especially when i’m working with a new group of guys. i’m stronger than i look, and once they see that i can handle all of the routine lifting tasks we do throughout the day, they tend to back off.
    i don’t, however, get hotheaded and refuse help with something i genuinely shouldn’t lift by myself. i’ve thrown my back out a few times, and it is not fun.

  38. @marilove: “coconscious ” … consensus! Spell checker faaaaaaail. I am loling.

    @carr2d2: I’m kind of short, so people tend to assume I’m not very strong, but I’m really quite strong for my size. Most of my weight is from muscle. I’m not afraid to ask for help when I need it, of course, but for the most part I’m pretty capable. I’ve never thrown out my back, thankfully!

  39. @carr2d2:

    i think the very idea that “real” men have to act “like men” comes out of the idea that women are inferior.

    I agree. My 11 year old son grew his hair out a few years ago, and is often mistaken for a girl. It’s bizarre how profusely apologetic people get when they find out their mistake. It’s as if they believe they’ve deeply insulted him by calling him a… *shudder*….girl.

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