This might be the toy trend of this holiday season: Between the Nerf guns and pink dolls, there's a gender war brewing. This time it's been sparked by a 13-year-old girl with this question for Hasbro: Why are Easy Bake ovens pink?
She's not alone: First, there was the girly Lego, complete with a hair salon, which landed on the list compiled by the Campaign for a Commercial Free Childhood as one of the worst toys of the year. Then, a few months ago, a six-year-old (admittedly with a little help from her mom) pointed out that the Hasbro game, Guess Who, had far fewer female characters than male ones, thereby giving anyone who picked a woman for the guessing game a clear disadvantage.
Now, more than 18,000 people have signed a petition in support of McKenna Pope, a 13-year-old girl in New Jersey, who wants Hasbro to make a gender-neutral Easy-Bake Oven. Turns out, her little brother wants to be a chef, and McKenna is challenging the notion – as traditional as the little oven itself – that cooking is a female domain.
In the petition McKenna writes: "I want my brother to know that it's not 'wrong' for him to want to be a chef, that it's okay to go against what society believes to be appropriate." She cites the talents of "male culinary geniuses" such as Gordon Ramsay. "Unfortunately, Hasbro has made going against the societal norm that girls are the ones in the kitchen even more difficult."
Hasbro, reportedly, has yet to respond. Though, as the Daily Beast reports , about 10 years ago, they did come out with "boy-friendly" oven, calling it the Queasy Bake Cookerator, which allowed for such culinary creations as Chocolate Crud Cake Mix. It's safe to assume this is not the solution young McKenna is hoping for. (Her petition includes a video of her brother mixing up some old-fashioned brownies.)
On the gender-neutral front, Sweden, as always, appears to be ahead of the curve. (Recall their gender neutral school, Egalia.) Equality goes both ways; if boys can make cupcakes, then girls can tote male-marketed toys as well. To wit, last month, a Guardian columnist trumpeted a toy retailer's flyer in which a pony-tailed girl boldly aims a Nerf machine gun.
And, it wasn't even pink.
Do gender-specific toys send a message? If so, how can we change toy packaging and toy stores to make them more gender neutral?