Ashley Lauren Samsa applauds a young girl’s petition to the CEO of Hasbro to start featuring boys in its Easy-Bake Oven promotional material.
My husband and I don’t have children yet so, fortunately, we are able to put off the struggle to explain to relatives and friends why we want our kids to receive whatever toys they want this holiday season, regardless of gender norms. We’re already planning on encouraging our future son to play dress-up with Barbie dolls and our future daughter to build stuff with Legos—the real, classic Legos, not those girly Lego Friends.
We do, however, see the struggle our new-parent friends are having in dealing with well-meaning new grandparents who want to paper the walls with pink for girls and blue for boys along with accompanying gender appropriate toys. Apparently these new grandparents haven’t seen the YouTube video of a girl named Riley, who goes on an adorable, yet on-point, tirade asking why girls have to play with “pink stuff” and boys get to play with “different colored stuff.”
The feminist circle spends a great deal of time talking about how toys are marketed to boys and girls and how that perpetuates gender norms. This becomes exponentially more important as the holidays roll around and we start seeing toy commercials depicting boys playing with Legos and toy trucks, while girls are seen playing with dollhouses and kitchen sets. The blatant marketing decisions seem harmless—after all, we all know that kids can play with whatever toys they want regardless of their gender, and how many of us actually watch those commercials anymore anyway?
However, if Riley is any indication, these messages get through to kids. They believe what they see far earlier than they can even read and, unfortunately, what they see are commercials and print ads for certain toys. From those ads, it’s pretty clear what toys boys and girls are supposed to play with, and, by extension, what boys and girls are supposed to do with their lives. Us feminists can try to raise our kids to be whatever they want and play with whatever they want, but how are we supposed to undo ages of gender-specific marketing, especially while that marketing continues to reach the eyes of untold numbers of children each day?
Fortunately, 13-year-old McKenna Pope of Garfield, New Jersey, is taking matters into her own hands. She is petitioning the CEO of Hasbro to start showing both girls and boys playing with Easy Bake Ovens in their ads. She was inspired by her 4-year-old brother, who wants an Easy Bake Oven for Christmas, but who is disheartened by the lack of boys in commercials for the product. McKenna is also disheartened by these images, saying, “[W]e soon found it quite appalling that boys are not featured in packaging or promotional materials for Easy-Bake Ovens—this toy my brother’s always dreamed about. And the oven comes in gender-specific hues: purple and pink. I feel that this sends a clear message: Women cook, men work…I want my brother to know that it’s not ‘wrong’ for him to want to be a chef, that it’s OK to go against what society believes to be appropriate.”
I applaud McKenna in her quest. As of the writing of this article, her petition has almost 27,000 signatures, and I hope she gets many more. It is vitally important for our society to encourage boys to play with stereotypically “girl toys.” The more images boys see of other boys playing at cooking, cleaning, and caring for babies, the more acceptable it will be for those boys to grow up into the kind of men who take part in those domestic duties in adult life.
I know all I want for Christmas this year is a new generation of men willing to take on an equal share of housework and childcare duties, and what better way to start that generation off on the right foot than to give boys Easy-Bake Ovens and show them that it’s not only OK to cook for your family, it’s encouraged.
Ashley Lauren Samsa is a high school English teacher and freelance writer in the suburbs of Chicago. She is currently blasting music with her husband in their brand new house, where they live with their dog, Penny. She writes about feminism, relationships, and teaching at her own site—Small Strokes (http://smallstrokesbigoaks.com)—and Care2 (http://www.care2.com/causes/author/ashleys). You can follow her on Twitter @samsanator.