A Connecticut teenager has forced McDonald's to finally address the casual sexism that has long been a part of Happy Meals.
This impressive narrative comes courtesy of Antonia Ayres-Brown, who first approached the fast food chain five years ago when she was barely a tween. She wanted to know why the chain automatically assumes a girl will want a doll-type toy while a boy will want something more stereotypically masculine, like an action hero. In December, she finally received an answer — from the chain's corporate office, no less:
Image Credit: Ian Ayres
McDonald's has since made a written promise that they will try to ensure that toys are no longer classified as "girl" toy or "boy" toy at its 14,000 restaurants across the United States.
Ayres-Brown noted in her Slate essay that the idea for the campaign was born out of personal experience. Even at 11, she realized there was something odd about the fact that every time she went to a McDonald's with her family, the toys were labeled as either "girl toys" or "boy toys."
Questioning this policy, Ayres-Brown conducted her own research, sending kids into more than 30 McDonald's establishments. The result? More than 90% of the time, store employees automatically handed over a toy that corresponded to the child's gender. More interesting, on at least one occasion, female children who specifically asked for the boy toy were refused, she said.
While the letter from the McDonald's chief diversity officer is nice, arguably more heartening are signs that the shift in policy is actually being reflected in individual franchises. This photo, posted to Do Something's Facebook page, is a prime example:
Image Credit: Facebook
It should be noted that this is not the first time customers have protested the gendered distribution of toys at the company. This Change.org petition is from more than a year ago.
Image Credit: Change.org
"If a young girl wants to play with an action figure or spy gadgets, she receives the message that she is somehow different, somehow strange, and somehow wrong for wanting to play with a 'boy's toy,'" petitioner Meaghan Harris noted. The petition was signed by more than 400 people.
Theresa Bassett, a mother of six, had also written to McDonald's in 2010 highlighting the same problem: "I seriously wonder why you continue to ask the question when getting a Happy Meal, 'Do you want a girl toy or a boy toy?' I mean really! ... Does this have to be gender-specific or can we come into the 21st century and work on being gender-neutral?"
In response, Bassett was told that the McDonald's toys aren't "gender-restricted," and denied that store policy required employees to ask about girl or boy preferences.
The biggest takeaway here is that even behemoth corporations aren't immune to gender stereotypes, and should be called out on those stereotypes when they occur. Besides Ayres-Brown, there are several examples of younger citizens who have effected meaningful change in this arena: Just look at the way McKenna Pope successfully lobbied Hasbro to make a gender-neutral Easy Bake oven, and to include boys in the ads.