Don't Expect Easy-Bake Ovens to Warm America Up to Gender-Neutral Toys

By: Daniel Villarreal
12.9.2012

When I heard of the 13-year-old girl who started a petition asking Hasbro to include boys in their Easy-Bake Oven commercials, it seemed like gender equality might finally come to America's toy industry, especially in light of two recent, related stories.

In August, a Harrod's department store in London unveiled a gender-neutral toy store arranged in theme areas — like an enchanted forest and a circus tent — rather than by gender.

Then more recently, a major Swedish toy company released a gender-swapped Christmas catalog featuring girls playing with trucks and boys playing house.

But while I'd love an age where American retailers and consumers start demanding gender-neutral toys that encourage our kids to explore their interests rather than conform to outdated gender stereotypes, we're still not there yet.

For one, the two latter stories happened in Europe — many kilometers away from our non-metric shores — where laws regarding LGBT unions and gender expression are much more accepting than our own.

In these societies, a boy playing with a doll may not seem taboo. But in our country, if a mom publicly paints her son's toenails, it's the end of the world.

Secondly, the Harrod's store redesigned itself right before the Olympics and the Swedish toy company released its catalog right before the holiday season, giving both companies a promotional profit motive to do something new and unorthodox in a bid for publicity and curious new customers.

In comparison, the push for gender-inclusive  Easy-Bake Oven ads is consumer-driven rather than company-driven and based more on a desire to see this particular product freed from its decades-long designation as a "girl's toy."

What other toy allows kids to make their own cookies and cakes. When you're a kid, making your own cakes is like freakin' magic! And then you get to <em>eat</em> it? Jesus Christ! Amazing!

Boys like cookies. Girls like cookies. The childhood hankering for cookies is genderless, and for nearly half a century, Easy-Bake Ovens have been the only toy that can deliver the goods.

There are other toys that encourage boys to make rock candy, gummy worms and such, but those toys often have a mad scientist gross-out slant that just seems boring in comparison to baking like an actual adult.

Don't get me wrong. I want us to live in a society where boys can play with Strawberry Shortcake and girls can play with Bob the Builder without being called a sissy or a tomboy; but these stories aren't any indication that we'll be there anytime soon.

26.000 signatures for a gender inclusive baking ad is good, but call me when an American toy company decides to start marketing its inventory in a genderless way — that will be real sign of change in toy land.

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