Mom & Pop Culture: McGender: Unpacking the Happy Meal
I'm not a fan of McDonald's for a variety of reasons, but beyond their tasty unhealthy food they are a perfect example of how marketing has changed over the years to further push gender stereotypes upon consumers.
McDonald's is known for their Happy Meals—those flimsy cardboard boxes that include not only a greasy, high in fat & sodium meal, but also a "toy." I use the term "toy" lightly, because we all know it's just code for a plastic piece of crap that will break within a day of bringing it home. However, even I will admit that as a kid I was totally stoked for that plastic piece of crap, and in our rare trips to the golden arches, I always found myself more excited to see what toy I got than to eat my chicken nuggets.
But here's the thing. I can't remember my mom or dad ever being asked "boy or girl?" when they ordered a Happy Meal back in the '80s. Today, that's the first question asked. Today the toys are so heavily gendered that McEmployees are probably instructed to ask this question every single time.
This wasn't always the case. The Happy Meal was introduced in 1977, and the toys were completely gender neutral ones that anybody could enjoy. These included things like a "McDoodler" stencil or a plastic tumbler.
Then the '80s hit and toys started getting a bit more "hi-tech," although still not really gender focused. I can remember my brother and I arguing over who got the "McNugget Croc" versus the "Fry Bot."
McDonald's got hip to the fact that they could make even more money by getting other corporations to sponsor their plastic crap and soon familiar faces from TV and movies started appearing in our Happy Meals. But still...they were pretty innocuous (and okay, pretty cool to my ten-year-old self).
Fraggles in vegetable cars! (pretty much the only veggies you'll find at McD's!)
The Peanuts Gang!
Don't tell me you don't remember Rescue Rangers! Gadget was a smart, badass female character, even if she was a rodent.
But as time went on, the toys slowly started leaning towards one gender or the other. As the '90s hit, instead of "Which Fraggle/Smurf/Animated TV character would you like?" it became.... "Boy or girl?"
Why? Was McDonald's not selling enough fries or heart attacks? I'm sure profit provided a motive, but couldn't they have just kept on with the gender neutral plastics?
So now, my child can either get a Barbie (with hair you can style!) or a race car. Sure, nobody is saying that if your little boy wanted the Barbie Happy Meal he couldn't get it (though you'd have to ask for the "girl" meal to give it to him), but why the push to even offer toys segregated by gender?
I'm not so sure what McDonald's perceived as broken, since they obviously implemented a "fix." If you drive up to a McDonald's today and order a Happy Meal, these will be your toy choices—based on your child's gender, of course:
Certainly, McDonald's isn't the only one playing into the whole gender stereotype problem, but it doesn't hurt to take a look at their marketing over the years and question WHY they are doing it and why they've changed it up. A lot of the answers can be connected to profit, as well as the various companies to which McDonald's has ties. Marketing already plays such a huge role in our daily lives (whether we're aware of it or not) that it never hurts to tune in and question the motives behind why companies make the choices they do.
McDonald's: Super Sizing gender since the mid '90s.
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