At least, that’s when I believe Happy Meal Toys were introduced–if not, someone please correct me. And that’s what I’m going to focus about now.

I’m not going to lie–when I was a kid, I loved my Happy Meals. Especially the toys. Actually, I probably loved the toys more than the meals. Those little gadgets or stuffed animals were the driving force behind the pestering my parents had to face every time we were out. “I’m hungryyyyy,” I would whine, even though we had just eaten before we left the house, and my parents soon grew wise to the fact that “I’m hungryyyy” actually means “I want the toy that comes with the Happy Meal,” for as soon as I wrapped my grubby little paws around the cardboard box, I’d dig vigorously through, passing over the main entree and occasionally gnawing half-heartedly on a few French fries before I abandoned all pretense of hunger, promptly passing over the food in favor of whatever little trinket was in the box.

As I grew older, I noticed a disturbing trend, however. As I’d take my younger siblings (now ages 8 and 13) out, watching them enact the same rapturous process of receiving a Happy Meal and eagerly looking for which toy they’d get, I saw that there was an increasing divide between “girl toys” and “boy toys.”

The catalyst for today’s post was a Facebook status update from a friend of mine with a 13-year-old sister, which said,

“Sadness is lying about your gender to get the Happy Meal toy that you want.
Happiness is finding a holographic Pokemon card in said Happy Meal toy!!!!”

I had known about the Pokemon toys, as my little brother (the 8-year-old) is an avid fan, and had just happily brought home a little figurine a few days earlier. But at that time, I didn’t know that the Pokemon toys were “boy toys” and that “girls” apparently could only get Liv dolls. When the employee asked whether the toy was for a boy or a girl, my friend realized that she’d have to lie. Nor is this an aberration–McDonald’s often has two different kinds of toys, each of which it brands as “Girl Toys” or “Boy Toys,” either by asking for the gender of the child, or via their website, which has as part of its URL “GirlToys” vs “BoyToys.” On the sidebar indicates an upcoming paradigm of Star Wars vs. Strawberry Shortcake toys.

This is ridiculous. Thanks, McDonald’s, for telling society that girls get X toy while boys get Y toy. Thanks for asking children or their parents whether the Happy Meal is for a boy or a girl, because heaven forbid the child gets the “wrong toy.”

What’s the deal? Why can’t employees just ask, “Liv doll or Pokemon toy?” instead of prescribing what they deem is the appropriate toy for a child of a certain gender? I can tell you right away that I’d have picked the “boy toys.” And I bet a ton of other girls would have too. And I bet there are boys who would have preferred “girl toys.” Toys don’t have a gender. Toys are toys. Who assigned Pokemon to boys? Because when I was in third grade, EVERYONE played Pokemon. Okay, sure, that was about twelve years ago, but it surely indicates that Pokemon is something that can and does appeal to many children, regardless of their gender. Who are you, McDonald’s, to tell a kid what he or she wants? Who are you to assume a kid’s desires based on his or her gender?

Anyway, I went to their website and submitted this under “Contact Us” in their “Social Responsibility” category.

To Whom It May Concern:

I have a question regarding your categorization of Happy Meals as “Boy Toys” or “Girl Toys.” On your website, clicking on either category of currently available toys will bring you to a new page with a header of one or the other. In addition, in stores, your employees customarily inquire to the child’s gender when giving a toy along with the Happy Meal. I am wondering why you deem this a necessary practice, for drawing assumptions on a child’s desire based on his or her gender is a rather insensitive process that relies on restrictive notions of gender identity. I believe that it would be much more sensible for you to train your employees to simply ask the parents or children which toy it is they want, without even bringing gender into the equation. I also believe that the Happy Meal website does not need a distinction between the two categories of toys pointed out with a URL addition of “#BoyToys” or “#GirlToys.” Thank you for your time, and I look forward to receiving a response.

Here goes nothing! Will update you if I hear back.

7/2 – Update. Someone emailed me back! See as follows (my name has been redacted):

Thank you for taking the time to write McDonald’s and to share your thoughts with us about our Happy Meals.

I’m sorry you’re disappointed with some of our Happy Meal programs. First, please be assured that none of our toys are meant to be gender-restricted. Rather, all of our toys are meant to be enjoyed by all our younger customers — both girls AND boys.

When we offer a Happy Meal with two different themes, our employees have been specifically trained to ask customers which of the two toys offered that week they would like, and not whether they would like a “girl” toy or a “boy” toy. I’m sorry if you’ve experienced anything different.

Please be assured, we would never want any of our promotions, games or premium items to disappoint our customers. Because you’re a valued customer, your comments are very important to us, and have been shared with our Marketing staff for their on-going review.

Again, thank you for contacting McDonald’s. We look forward to serving you for many years to come.

Okay, that’s very nice sounding. Let’s see if they change anything. McDonald’s, your move.

7/19 Update – Went through the drive-through last week with aforementioned friend. Was asked “boy or girl toy.” Sigh.