Happy Meals, Gender Options, and The Amazing Spider-Man 2

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Photo: McDonalds.com

There have been many posts and grumblings online regarding the ever-present gender-specific policy of Happy Meals from McDonald’s, which have increased with the release of The Amazing Spider-Man 2.

Being responsible GeekMoms, we have an ongoing interest in examining gender stereotypes in toys. A post from last August took on the issue of the girl-focused Lego Friends line; Building on Her Own Terms: From Lego Foe to Lego Friends. The real-world results of Cristen Pantano and her journey of acceptance is one I can relate to with my own preschool geekling girl. Whether it be pink or red Legos, the thrill of seeing a new skill set blossom which was thought to primarily belong to sons and not daughters is greater than the sum of a few misplaced artistic choices and packaging fumbles.

To get to the bottom of the Mc-noise about the Happy Meals, I decided to brave the slings and arrows from those who boycott fast food to get to the bottom of this not-so-happy meal issue. We’re not a family that eschews McDonald’s. There is a certain nostalgic comfort in those golden arches. But it did catch me off-guard when the pleasant young employee asked if I was buying “for a boy or girl.”

We opted to buy both versions and found that Ella, my daughter, really wasn’t into the massive wind-up spider that came with the boy-themed meal. She did, however, love her purple hair clip with the Spider-Man insignia and immediately put on her black webbed headband. I was a bit disappointed in her choice to shun the spider, since she had more recently been playing with a friend, who is a boy, and came home wanting a remote-controlled tarantula that climbs the wall—so much so, it made her Christmas list (in May!). The flights of fancy of a 3-year-old do change quickly.

Another change I noticed recently is her vocabulary for toys and clothes in general. She has begun placing most things in either “boy” or “girl”categories. This was a little heartbreaking for me. I tried to explain that items do not have to sit in one gender or the other. I reinforced that it’s okay for her friends who are boys to like pink, just as it’s okay for her to wear superhero shirts. Still, she has become adamant about gender assignments. It may be a battle that I lose, but I will keep on trying to neutralize the playing field.

So it bothered me a little to discover that McDonald’s still offers boy or girl Happy Meals. It’s not the gender-predictable colors of the toys that bother me; I wrote a piece not too long ago explaining that in our house, “pink” is not a four-letter word. My concerns are about gender-assigned content. My feelings aside, Ella was pleased to have a choice in toys and ultimately went with the girl theme. This left me thinking that it may make more sense for McDonald’s to offer an “option A” or “option B” meal, leaving gender labels out. Gender neutrality could even lead to more sales and happy parents. Going forward with change, it would be wise of Ronald to remember that “with great meals comes great responsibility.”

Mc-fumbles and gender strides aside, my GeekMom Spidey senses were tingled enough by the Spider-Man 2 toys to create this short review with my 3-year-old daughter.

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4 thoughts on “Happy Meals, Gender Options, and The Amazing Spider-Man 2

  1. Well done Melody! I like your idea of McD’s just offering “Option 1” and “Option 2” toys. I agree with you: We aren’t asking McD’s to offer only gender-neutral toys, but to not immediately assume that a Skylanders toy is for a boy, or a MLP toy is for a girl.

    By the way, this was published earlier this month, with promising news from corporate McDonald’s: http://host.madison.com/news/opinion/column/antonia-ayres-brown-my-fight-to-end-gendered-happy-meal/article_f0a8abb9-2a71-5c89-8894-0b4e79d03317.html

  2. Thank you for the great link Patricia. I knew that I can heard tale that change was indeed in the air at the arches. Now if ONLY they would add an consistent vegetarian option, for Ella’s Dad, we might be able to all partake of the occasional fast food sin ! ☺☺☺☺

  3. The Spider-man toys took me by surprise (though both my girls liked the girl option better as well). Lately I’ve noticed the McDonalds employees asking if you want the Star Wars or Barbie toys rather than boy vs girl. That’s my preference.

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