By the time I pulled out of the driveway today on my way to practice my Yoda training with Jedi Ganner the horse, I had dallied around a little too much. I was running late and I was hungry. Being a certified geek girl, my first thought for a quick meal brought me to the conclusion that, child or not, a Happy Meal would fit the bill – because of course The Clone Wars are again the featured franchise tie-in toy.
So I pull into the drive-thru, order the happiest meal on Earth, and I’m asked, “Boy toy or girl toy?” (Apparently, Strawberry Shortcake is also currently gracing Happy Meals.)
I’m not sure if I should have a beef with McDonald’s actual corporate viewpoint, or rather if this is still a cultural bias they think they’re just catering to. Regardless, my mindset when addressing these kinds of silly biases is to confront them straight on. So my answer to the young male voice in the speaker was, “Girl toy – Clone Wars, please.”
Unless I actually get into see their icon-laden computer screens, there’s no way of knowing if McDonald’s tells their employees to input the toy request as “boy or girl” instead of “Star Wars or Strawberry Shortcake.” But I expect that they do use the gender labels, because they’re constantly switching from one promotional tie-in to the next and they wouldn’t want to be updating the names on the register and retraining their employees what to say every week or two. The real key, though, is that it’s undeniable that for decades McDonald’s has always been marketing two sets of toys simultaneously because the uberfranchise believes one of each is necessary to serve both genders.
They may be serving fast food, but convenience is no excuse for prejudgment. What they should be asking each ordering customer is “Clone Wars or Strawberry Shortcake?” Yes, I know the other way is simpler. But if you think about it, naming the products isn’t just helpful because it avoids pernicious assumptions and gender-bias. Saying the name of the tie-in toy would actually reinforce the marketing value of the cheap little product.
When I drove around to the window, the young man seemed a bit puzzled after he tossed in the toy and went to hand me the Happy Meal box. He actually did a double-take. So I talked to him about it. I assured him that this girl wanted a boy’s toy; that women like Star Wars, too.
His answer, “Good to know” and a thumbs up. Who knows, maybe that tip will help him get a date to the prom next year.
Lesson learned: Don’t get mad, get happy, when confronted with bias formed from a lack of awareness. Sharing a little knowledge goes a long way toward creating understanding.
Author’s Note – The toy, in case you’re wondering, was a purple lightsaber. Blade color of Mace Windu and Jaina Solo.
Tricia Barr's novel, Wynde, won the 2014 Independent Publisher Book Award Gold Medal for Best Science Fiction/Fantasy/Horror Ebook. She was also part of Silence in the Library's successful all-female creator science fiction and fantasy anthology Athena's Daughters, which is available now. For excerpts and tales of her adventures in creating a fictional universe, hop over to TriciaBarr.com.
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