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McDonald's needs to stop gender stereotyping Happy Meal toys, and it has to end now

It's about time big corporations put serious thought into the gender stereotypes they are silently perpetuating.

McDonald's needs to stop gender stereotyping Happy Meal toys, and it has to end now

Gender stereotypes are so deeply ingrained into our society that even children's toys aren't exempt from the masculine and feminine tropes they project. With all things pink, cuddly, and cute marketed for girls and traditionally "masculine" items like sporty cars, soldiers, and swords classified under "boy toys," these stereotypes start young. Children are subconsciously taught that they need to adhere to society's outdated definition of male and female. With inclusivity being paramount in today's day and age, you'd think the toy industry would finally see the lasting effects of its gender-typing ways.


However, the blame cannot be firmly placed on the shoulders of toy companies alone when these tropes extend far beyond the limits of toy store shelves and silently thrive in something as innocuous as a McDonald's Happy Meal box. PopSugar author and mother-of-two, Kate Schweitzer, recently called out the fast-food company on this practice in an eye-opening account of how a random stop at one of its outlets left her concerned about the message these gendered boxes sent to her daughters.



"We were driving the five hours from Chicago to St. Louis to visit my parents, and although we'd often pack snacks for our two kids ahead of such a road trip, we realized halfway through the drive that pickings were slim. My husband pulled off at a nearby exit and I saw the golden arches of a McDonald's just around the corner," Schweitzer wrote. She revealed that while they do not make it a practice to feed their children fast food, seeing as how they did not have much of a choice in the matter in that instance, she walked into the outlet with her 4-year-old daughter while her husband found them a picnic table out front.



What Schweitzer did not expect, however, were the plethora of menu options she had to choose from and the barrage of questions that followed her order. Navigating the complicated ordering process with her daughter—who needed to pee—tugging on her shirt, she was just about ready to pay for her order when the cashier asked her one more question: "Are these for girls or boys?" Faced with the dilemma of either objecting the generalization or normalizing it with her silence, Schweitzer replied that she'd take one of each.


"While we waited for our order, I took my daughter to the bathroom. She asked, 'What were you and that woman talking about?' I once again struggled for words, but as I opened my mouth, my kid kept talking: 'Did she say I get a toy?! Is that true?' Her mind, thankfully, seemed to be elsewhere," Schweitzer wrote. Before handing the Happy Meal boxes to her kids, however, she inspected the toys and found that her suspicions were in fact true. "Inside the first? A miniature Barbie doll. The other? A Hot Wheels car. It wasn't hard to guess which was for the girls and which was for the boys," she wrote.


"As a female, I've experienced unconscious gender bias for as long as I can remember. And since having kids, I've certainly seen how it has subtly crept into their world. I've searched through clothing racks and wondered why a dinosaur onesie for an 18-month-old was in the boys section (or why there are girls and boys clothing sections at all), and I'd recently flipped through a Halloween costume catalog from a popular children's brand that had boys dressed as astronauts and superheroes and girls dressed as butterflies and unicorns," Schweitzer continued.


This, however, was the first time she'd had these gender tropes thrust upon her and Schweitzer realized just how problematic a simple Happy Meal could be. With over 36,000 locations in more than 100 countries around the globe, McDonald's has incredible reach (and impact) across the world and by extension, so do these gender-biases. She pointed out that becoming less gendered is something the fast-food chain could achieve with something as easy as a corporate training wherein the "Boy or girl?" question can be swapped for "Barbie or Hot Wheels?"


"It's such an easy tweak that goes such a long way, not just for my children but for all the boys and girls and nonbinary kids out there, who maybe would like to play with the toy that wasn't assigned based on their reproductive organs," she wrote. Schweitzer's words call attention to how gender biasing continues to thrive under the radar and how more often than not, we may not even notice how our children are being subjected to these messages. It's time McDonald's—and other such big companies—take into consideration the subtle yet problematic messages they are perpetuating.


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