Tuesday, January 25, 2011

Teaching Feminism at McDonald's

Let me start by saying yes, I do take my children to McDonald's. I have reasons both for and against doing so, and have made an informed decision that we can occasionally go to the nearby "Old McDonald's" for a treat. In a similar vein, my kindergarten-aged daughter wears a LOT of pink sparkly things, has make-up and high heels, and frequently talks about being a princess. Again, I've made my choices, and stand by them, even if I sometimes wince at the results.

That doesn't mean I've compromised my values.

A couple weeks ago, I took my sparklicious daughter and her more sedate brother to McDonald's for lunch and a romp in the play structure there. While they climbed and played I ordered a couple of Happy Meals and something for myself. Now, McDonald's, for whatever asinine reason, not only categorizes their toys by age (toddlers get "safer" bits of cheap plastic); they also gender-identify them so that when ordering one has to request a boy Happy Meal or a girl Happy Meal, or else the cashier freezes in a quandary of what toy to put in the sack. And, of course, the toys for girls are soft and sweet and pink (Strawberry Shortcake, My Little Pony, random stuffed animals) while boys get action toys (Transformers, skateboards, Bakugan).

I resent that.

However, I also get physically ill when facing the bickering that ensues when two kids have the same toy and one disappears, so I took the easy route and ordered one boy toy (ooh, that sounds kinky!) and one girl toy (that does too!) and called the kids down to eat.

After wolfing down their apples and some nuggets, the kids clamored for their toys. Violet got a pink fuzzy thing that may or may not have been a hamster (by making it amorphous the toy company could claim it was any one of four sweet animals -- I think. The explanations were in translated Chinese.) Sam got a Bakugan. For those unfamiliar with the ongoing trend of inexplicable (by which I mean, I don't understand it so I can't explain it) toys/games from Japan, Bakugan is/are a series of robot balls, each of which has a "power" and which seem to be a bastard cousin of Transformers, in that they open up into robots with faces. Some can even combine into greater robots. There are accompanying cards that list the robots' strength, skill, and attack points, all of which reminds me mightily of Dungeons and Dragons in which one's character had strength, skill, and attack points, and I wonder why that was unbearably geeky, but this is cool? But I digress.

Sam was delighted with his Bakugan, immediately disappearing into the tubes and germs that are a PlayPlace. Violet, on the other hand, looked plaintively up at me and asked, "Why did I get _this_ while Sam got a Bakugan?"

So, I took a deep breath and gave Violet a 5 year old's summary of gender discrimination, (yes, I did use those words) and boiled it down to: because she's a girl people think she wouldn't want to play with cool robots. And my fabulous little girl, who is so fierce and strong, understood, and immediately said, "Well, I want a Bakugan." And she took her stupid stuffed blob up to the counter and asked if she could please have a different toy.

The very nice cashier handed her a different sweet fuzzy blob.

She looked at me, then back at the cashier, and said quite clearly, "No, I want a Bakugan."

He didn't get it at first. He stood there, looking at me, then at the pink, sparkly, tiara-bedecked princess in front of him, and at the "girl" toy in his hand. And then the cashier took the second blob back, and handed Violet TWO Bakugan. Because she wanted to play with cool robots, and he was going to make that happen.

We've had a couple more conversations since then about girl toys and boy toys, and gender in general. Our kids are pretty good about it. Sam likes to wear nail polish, and has learned to ignore friends and classmates who make negative comments about it. Violet is still of an age where she's trying to use physical cues to help her distinguish boys from girls, but clothing and hair length are no longer the first things she sees. Most important (to me), is that both of them understand that they can be or do whatever they want, and we'll love them unconditionally.

And that, whenever we go to McDonald's, they can have whatever toy they want.