The Toy Question

My friend Nancy was pissed off. She’d just been to McDonald’s to buy her child a Happy Meal, and a server had asked, “Is that for a boy or a girl?”

“Really?” Nancy asked me. “In this day and age, there are boys’ toys and girls’ toys? It just seems so archaic to me that toys are still designated one way and another.”

I was feeling the opposite when, a few weeks ago, we stopped for Happy Meals in a rural California town. The server asked, “Strawberry Shortcake or Star Wars?” Sam and Ruby picked Strawberry Shortcake; Sam gave his to Ruby, saying “I wanted the Star Wars, but it was a skateboard, and there are no skateboards in Star Wars.” You just never know what a kid is going to want.

Nancy was bothered that McDonald’s hands out gendered toys—and that they assume a boy would want a “boy” toy and a girl would want a “girl” toy. I don’t have a problem with toys being masculine or feminine. Most kids have some sort of gender expression—often it goes with their biological gender, but sometimes, as you know, it doesn’t. So why not let kids choose their toys based on their own gender expression, rather than their biological gender?

Being the agitator that I am, I emailed McDonald’s to ask what their corporate policy is on asking The Toy Question. Are employees instructed to say “Girl or boy?” or to refer to the toys by name? Because how they ask makes all the difference. I’ll let you know what their response is, but in the mean time, why don’t you email them too?

Today the world is abuzz about a French McDonald’s ad featuring a gay teenager and the tagline, “Come as you are.” McDonald’s, thank you. And if you start to ask The Toy Question right, even more kids will feel like they can come as they are.



  1. Jackson says

    I hope you get a favorable response from them. I’ve noticed with many companies the whole “sir” and “ma’am” is frowned upon and employees are instructed to get customers’ attention in other ways or when calling them to the register, etc. I know some of the reason is due to young women’s dislike for being “ma’am”-ed because to them it’s a sign of old age or something. I know studies have been done on this sort of thing but I don’t know where those studies would be located. I know that many companies are also moving away from this strict gendered adjective use due to some being LGBTQ, et al. friendly and some are adopting this policy to draw in more customers.

    However, the cashiers and floor people still will sometimes use such language based on their upbringing and other their views on how to show respect for another person. The varying differences Nancy and you experience at the same overall corporation lend credit to this point. McDonald’s doesn’t change in every location (except in different countries due to different cultures and laws) so the only conclusion I can see is the individual person behind the counter being the difference between “Strawberry Shortcake or Star Wars” and “Is that for a boy or a girl?”

    I think this post just further proves how difficult, especially with the English language, it is to talk in non-gendered terms sometimes. I do my best and more often than not people are asking me questions about what I mean or just being confused because I was too wordy. And on an additional side note of language, do you know of non-gendered words for “aunt,” “uncle,” “niece,” or “nephew?” I realized the other day that other parent terms have a neutral counterpart but these don’t, to my knowledge.

  2. says

    You think English is gendered, try nearly any other language. I can tell the gender of the person my kids are talking on the phone to…can’t hide in Hebrew.

    • shoffman says

      My son goes to a Jewish day school with an hour of Hebrew instruction a day. He was dismayed to discover that the rug, the sky, the books all need to be gendered. He used to not know what gender to call himself, or any of the things he liked. In time we taught him to forgive the language, that it’s ancient and stuck in its ways (like some people we know), and that it’s OK to play by its rules, as we don’t need to make those rules our own rules (I imagine this is easier one hour a day than 24).

      In first grade the other children struggled with what to call Sam, and were uncomfortable with the back-and-forth that they ended up with–sometimes male, sometimes female. Then they started to learn about exceptions to various language rules, which they called “rule breakers,” and one of the kids said, “I know! Sam’s a rule-breaker!” Everyone was more comfortable after that.

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