Dear Giant Fast Food Place,
Today as I pulled up to the drive-thru speaker and ordered two kids meals, I heard yet again that familiar phrase that your employees have asked me literally every time before: “Is the toy for a boy or a girl?”
“Mommmmm…,” I hear from my little boy in the back seat.
Companies, I’d like to let you in on a not-so-secret tip.
Little girls enjoy transforming monster trucks. And little boys (gasp!) play with cute little animal figurines. (In fact, my 3-year-old son regularly has pretend cupcake parties with his brother, wearing his Pinkie Pie pony mask while humming “Let It Go.”)
As a child, I wasn’t the typical “girly girl.” I shunned everything pink and frilly. My best friend (a boy) and I used to explore the neighborhood, catching lizards and pretending to be superheroes chasing criminals on our bikes. Sometimes we’d pop all the heads off my sister’s Barbies and giggle about it. We had all sorts of adventures together, full of imagination. Sometimes, however, we’d decide to play house and cuddle baby dolls or pretend that we were fairy tale characters. I just enjoyed spending time being a kid with him. It was always confusing though, when our parents would take us to our favorite fast food place together and the toy he got was way cooler than mine. More than once, I tried to trade it.
My husband had a similar experience in his youth. He wasn’t really into the presumed “boy toys” and usually wanted the “girl” one, often because it was related to a movie or tv show he liked or had something he wanted to collect. He remembers being way too embarrassed to order a “girl toy” at the counter, and would make his sister or mom ask for one for him while he watched from afar.
That was almost 30 years ago. Why in the world is this still happening to our kids?!?
It is more than fine to have two toy options for your kids meals. Children all have unique tastes and personalities, so it’s wonderful that they have a choice… but is it really a choice? Identifying that the meal is for a boy instantly causes the truck, not the pony, to go into the box. We as the parent don’t even know which toy is classified as which (though we can certainly guess).
But there’s a deeper issue. Putting a stereotypical label on a toy does something heartbreaking to a child who already may not fit in with his peers. It tells him or her that they are abnormal for liking something. That they are wrong, broken. That they have to change their tastes because that is what they are “supposed” to like. It creates this vicious cycle of self-doubt and learning how to pretend, so that their real interests are buried deep.
And this starts young. Shortly after he began attending preschool, my sweet little boy suddenly informed me that he couldn’t watch a particular favorite princess movie anymore, because his friends told him that it was only for girls. My heart broke a little bit. I immediately started showing him videos and telling stories of men who danced ballet, designed dresses, or created those hit princess stories. He seemed really happy and relieved to hear that I really liked a lot of “boy stuff” when I was a kid too, and that his friends were wrong — it was okay to like a lot of things.
About a year ago, when I first began to get annoyed with the “boy toy or girl toy” question at the drive thru, I sent out a polite Tweet expressing my frustration. To my surprise, the company in question responded that this was not part of their standard practice. OK, maybe there is not gender-specific labeling on the menu or the advertising. But every time we’ve ordered since, the employee on the mic has asked us that dreaded question. Every. Time.
Are places that out of touch with what their employees are doing? Perhaps it is time for a special training to be passed down through the various locations from the top?
As a parent who sometimes rolls her eyes at some of the super political correctness in the world, I’m not asking that you take away everything pink, or label everything with a big “toys are now gender neutral” sticker. I simply ask that you make your employees stop shaming our kids indirectly, when they can hear the question you’re asking. Don’t make them feel bad because a boy’s mom has to answer that they “want a girl toy.” Something as simple as having them ask “would you like the truck or the pony?” would fix this. Can you teach your team members to do that, fast food places?
Maybe if we all start to rethink the categorization of toys, we’ll end up with a generation that values diversity, creativity, and thinking outside the box. Boys who are more willing to display kindness and compassion. Girls who aren’t afraid to speak their minds or choose careers in male-dominated fields. Is that such a pipe dream?
If you won’t listen to an adult, perhaps the wisdom of your target audience, who is much more aware than you realize, will help convince you that this is needed:
Dear World, Stop asking about boy or girl toys. I’m sad. Girls like boy toys, and boys like girl toys. All toys are fun.
From a Kid.
I hope you take his advice. (Because who knows… he might end up as your future CEO one day!)