Okay, so we all know that McDonald’s has had gendered toys for years now, and it’s time that stopped being a thing. Barbies don’t need to be “for girls,” Hot Wheels don’t need to be “for boys.” More importantly, no one should be labeling them as such because giving a kid anxiety over wanting a toy that’s not “for” their gender is ridiculous when toys are for everyone.
Suddenly, McDonald’s is getting a great deal of praise for its latest toy line, tied to the release of The Amazing Spider-Man 2. Because look, everybody! We acknowledged that girls like Spider-Man, too! Girls like boy heroes! (We are still pretending that we don’t know this?) Girls want toys with Spider-Man’s picture on it, so we made them—we did an AWESOME job.
Except, I’m looking at those toys right now and no, they did not. They did not do a good job. In fact, I’m sort of angry over what a botched mess this is.
Look at those toys. Just… look at them. Of course, the most obvious thing to say is “why are all the toys for girls pink and purple?” And there’s something to that still, primarily the fact that you’re explicitly telling boys that pink and purple means “lady thing,” guaranteeing that no boy will be happy if he accidentally gets handed the “girls toy” when he gets a Happy Meal. There is no reason why this division needs to take place. Kids like toys in general, and all the toys can be any color. There’s no need to segregate them by spectrum.
How about all the hearts? Moreover, how about the fact that the hearts are usually framing Spidey, or the images associated with him? Again, we’re encouraging girls to view this hero as a crush rather than someone to emulate. Because they’re girls and girls get crushes. Girls like to wear shirts that say “My Boyfriend is a Superhero,” right? They don’t want to be superheroes, and they certainly don’t want to be boy superheroes.
Being a girl who loved pretending to be boy heroes growing up, and being a woman who often cosplays her own versions of male characters, this aspect has a particular personal sting. I cannot be Peter Parker… so the only other option is to be in love with him!
But let’s set all that aside. Let’s take a good look at the toys themselves for a second, think about what they are for and what they encourage. Let’s look at the boys section, populated primarily by cars and figures, items that kids will run and jump around with, race across the house with, let fly to the ceiling and back. And then let’s look at the girls section of toys: beauty products, items to wear, notebooks to write in.
All of the girls toys are inactive. They encourage young women to sit in one place, to write and primp and be pretty. This is the same problem we’ve been having with gendered toys for countless years now—everything made for girls is telling them to be still and thoughtful. Everything made for boys is telling them to be energetic and physical. We’re still encountering this, even while trying to solve other pressing problems with toy marketing. This suggestion that girls don’t play the same way boys do needs to be pulverized, but we reinforce it at every turn.
Give that girl an Easy Bake Oven! And give that boy a compass and a fire-starting kit!
When all of these toys are in one big pile, in a variety of colors, when a boy who is less excited by action figures can ask for a notebook, and a girl who wants a Spider-man car adds one to her Hot Wheels collection without getting a look (or outright refusal) from a fast food manager… then we can celebrate. Until then, this is nothing to be impressed about. We’re being asked to applaud as McDonalds sits down to a dinner party where we’re all on the dessert course.
“Girls love Spider-Man!” McDonalds informs us in a booming, authoritative tone. They are so excited to tell us the news.
And one of us chokes on some pudding while the politest person at the table replies, “Wow, really? Just… you rascals. We had no idea.”