Thursday, 21 July 2011

Trashy Toys and Gender Roles

...not without precedent and probably to occur a few more times in my future, I stopped in at McDonald's for a little liquid nourishment. Perhaps my local's selling of bottomless soft drinks drew me. I expiate my sin by only drinking Diet Coke and trying not to eat the food. I don't always succeed at the latter.

The point of my post, however, is to address the issue of Happy Meal toys. As all parents who have ever bought one of these things for their children, and quite a few others, will know, there are two broad categories which can be broadly described as "boys' toys" and "girls' toys". The former are almost inevitably mechanical (cars, airplanes, spacecraft etc.), related to this month's Saturday morning cartoon or superhero film du jour (when it hasn't been licensed to somebody else), or of similar action (and usually violence) related nature. As I write this, the local McCholesterol is offering the latest permutation on the Pokemon craze. At least I think so - no doubt some of the preadolescent boys filtering through McD's would (if I asked) tell me "That's so yesterday" and point me towards the REAL latest permutation, but I digress.

The "girls' toys" are, almost inevitably, useless. Today's option is a variety of plastic heads that seems designed only to teach little girls how to comb hair. One must admit that they are not the only ones to do so. Dr Seuss, that madcap purveyor of the delightfully bizarre for children barely old enough to boast of being in grade school, once offered a vision of a creature designed to do the same thing - a small dog-like being with a ridiculously prolific toupee and the words "All girls who like to brush and comb should have a pet like this at home." But Seuss, at least, held out the strong possibility that there were girls who might choose to do otherwise. The grade-school girl who goes into McD's today and wants a Happy Meal must either be a Pokemon fan like her brother or male classmates, or identify with a creature whose proportions are even more outrageous than Barbie's and whose only function is to have its hair combed.

On this basis, almost anything else would be more useful to the girls. Strawberry Shortcake, Care Bears, My Little Pony (especially My Little Pony, of which to say that it has taken a level in badass would be an understatement), even Holly Hobbie could save the world, positing a girl with sufficient imagination. Sure, they might be reduced to declaring their enemies vulnerable to flowers or love or strawberry pies or The Power Of Friendship or whatever - when it's unarguable that swarms of missiles or the output of energy weapons from the characters to which their brothers subscribe are far more suitable - but the means of victory are ultimately the authors' call. The raison d'etre of all of these "girls' toys" is sufficiently undefined that their scope is unlimited.

That being said, I'd rather spend the money on various combinations of Lego and letting my kids build what they want.


Almost as if on cue, the toys changed. We now have a choice of Star Wars for the boys and... would you believe... Strawberry Shortcake for the girls. The Yoda toy ought to offer very interesting crossover possibilities, if only for his height.

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