Tuesday, August 19, 2008

Happy Meals, Easy Bake Oven & Gendered Toys

So, I’m sitting here eating a McDonald’s Happy Meal. And does it make me happy? Well, sort of. I ordered the Happy Meal because I was saw the poster outside for the new Star Wars Bobble-Head toys that it came with. Cool! When I asked the lady at the drive-through window what toy was being given away this week, she pointed to Darth Vader on a Ty-Fighter. Very Cool! So I ordered a 4-piece chicken McNugget meal and eagerly stuck my hand in the bag to pull out the toy. Not cool! It was C3PO. I like 3PO, he’s just not the toy I was expecting.

As I sit here eating my fries I laugh as I recollect this funny childhood memory. When my brother was in kindergarten, his teacher, Mrs. McKibbens, made the class write a list of everything they wanted Santa Claus to bring them. In pencil, my brother wrote down only one thing--the two words: “at-at.” Yes, “a” “t” dash “a” ”t”. The teacher circled it in red, put a question mark by it, and had a private meeting with my mom. Perhaps she was concerned that he was having trouble spelling. Or maybe that he had trouble following assignments. Or maybe she was concerned that my parents wouldn’t know where Santa would even buy—I mean make—such a thing, an “at-at.” But my mother reassured her that it was a Star Wars toy…an All Terrain Armored Transport (AT-AT) to be exact. I can imagine how confused the teacher must have felt.

I remember how excited and thrilled my 5 year old brother was that Christmas morning. Per his annual routine, he woke up super early on Christmas morning, shaking me out of my slumber, so we could rush out and see what Santa had brought. Sure enough, Santa had brought an AT-AT down through our chimney tied with a perfect red bow. It was a cool toy to play with; after all, you could stuff a ton of action figures in that thing.

Don’t get me wrong, I also enjoyed playing with girl toys too. That was the year I got my Barbie swimming pool. But there were few girl toys that really had any real purpose behind them. It’s a testimony to how gendered children’s’ toys are, and the ways in which it socializes young girls to be passive recipients in society and into nurturing, care-taking roles. Girl toys rarely allow girls to build and construct, battle for power, or take over the universe. Rather, we are socialized to brush the hair of My Little Pony, change the wardrobe of Barbie, and go marketing with miniaturized plastic food. I appreciated my Strawberry Shortcake collection, but again, the best part of these doll was being able to smell their hair. The extent of fun with this toy was to make my brother close his eyes and guess which character he was smelling. Poor guy! The Easy Bake Oven played into stereotypes and gendered processes of socialization but it was one of the few toys that allowed girls to start and complete a mission and purpose. To bake, albeit, but at least this was an active rather than passive way of playing with toys. I mean, who knew that you could actually bake a brownie or small cake via the heat of a light bulb? Genius! The Easy Bake Oven took ‘playing house’ to the next level.

All in all, I will probably return to McDonalds for another Happy Meal soon. They really should make Happy Meals for adults. After all, we work hard and deserve some fun in life too!

Clone Wars toys are available for 4 weeks only. See: www.happymeal.com for details. My favorite Happy Meal toys are: Boba Fett on the Slave 1, Darth Vader on the Ty-Fighter and R2D2 in a plane, and the Stormtrooper on an AT-AT. (If you understand any of these terms you are either:r a) born in my era b) a Star Wars geek or c) the parent of a child born in the 70s or late 60s)

No comments: