McDonald’s Solves Gender Norming with Hot Pink Purse

A few weeks ago McDonald’s toys and gender norms zoomed into the zeitgeist, with all kinds of interesting articles, complaints, and even positive corporate response. I blogged about it here.

I was pleased that McDonald’s had resolved to change the norms so that kids & parents wouldn’t be asked for boys’ toys or girls’ toys but the “car” or the “pony” or whatever. I also wrote:

So that’s nice. I suspect the toys will still emerge in pink and passive vs colorful and active. Why can’t we have a pink ninja robot? A bright blue lipstick with lightning bolts? There’s room for variety here.
Still, small victories are victories. Good work Ayres-Brown

Small victories ARE victories. That said, this one felt a little bit Pyrrhic when pictures of the new spiderman toys were released.

Chris Sims over at Comics Alliance dealt with this in a piece called: “McDonald’s Offers Up Gendered ‘The Amazing Spider-Man 2′ Happy Meal Toys, So You Can Finally Have That Hot Pink Spidey Purse You Wanted.”

Now first of all, I know a lot of people who might really like a hot pink Spidey purse or headband. If these are the toys they want, then that’s fine. Sims, though, points out a bigger problem [my emphasis]:

That said, there’s a pretty big problem that you can see just from looking at the toys that goes beyond just the stereotypes at play. Boys get cars and girls get fashion, yes, but while girls get Spider-Man themed purses, bracelets and stickers, boys get the Spider-Man mask. The subtle — or maybe not so subtle, considering how much this comes up in this industry — is that girls can like superheroes, but boys can be superheroes.

It’s worth noting that the TV commercial for the ASM 2 Happy Meals features a boy and girl boy both equally web-swinging and stealing each other’s food (which is weird, Happy Meals are like four bucks, you can just get two), but the toys don’t really reinforce that. Instead, they drop kids into those same limiting stereotypes that show up everywhere.

The bolded line is so important. If we divide into boys and girls, even unstated, and only the boys get to BE spiderman, we’ve got a problem.

Working against gender norming is hard. You have to parent against the grain (this link goes to a picture of my daughter dressed as batgirl). Our children are pressured by society into picking the pink or blue, the passive or active.

To resist this you can’t just present choices and think your work is done; you have to find ways to suggest that the non-normative choice is superior, without going all totally nuts and giving them a complex about it (i.e. pink needs to be an option, just try to get your daughters to pick blue pretty often, because their peers, marketing, etc. are all pushing towards pink).
Comics do and don’t matter, much like toys. They are just one locus of much bigger problems, but they are a place where kids learn and imagine and act and play. They are male dominated and are continually an emerging site for us to work on these issues. When comic artist Janelle Asselin took apart a terrible new cover for Teen Titans, focusing quite a bit on Wonder Girl’s massive and fake breasts (this is a teenage superhero, remember), she started getting rape threats.
We can do better.
I asked my daughter who was her favorite superhero. She said, “Elsa, because she has the same powers as me.” Then she raised her hands in the air and made freezing superpower sounds.
One point for Disney, I guess.

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