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Do 'Boy' Toys Always Trump 'Girl' Toys?

In my quest to help build a more gender-neutral world, one of the small annoyances is the toys that are included with kid's meals at various restaurants (note to nutrition-focused readers: I will make reference to fast-food joints later in the post without even touching on whether eating such foods is ever a good idea. Be prepared.). At your larger, more-marketing driven outlets, you have a choice: there is a "boy" toy and a "girl" toy.

At a rather young age, my eldest daughter determined that this was a total crock. She has a vivid memory of dinner at McDonald's with a friend where "boys" were offered some cool spy gear and "girls" ... well, she doesn't have a vivid memory of that. Even though that's what she found when she opened the Happy Meal.

So we've started an experiment: every time we pull up to a fast-food joint and order a kid's meal and are asked whether we want a "boy" toy or a "girl" toy, I respond "surprise me." So far, we have received exclusively "boy" toys, which makes us all perfectly happy. "Boy" toys, we have determined, are almost always far cooler. (Right now, for instance, "boys" get a Lego race car at McDonald's. "Girls" get a token American Girl book. And the next set of toys, from what I can tell, is a Barbie compact for "girls" and Hot Wheels for "boys." Again, advantage="boys.")

My hypothesis is that fast food employees see "girl" toys as being more gendered than "boy" toys, so you're more likely to get a race car than a doll (less chance that the kid or the parent will be upset). Unfortunately, we don't eat this sort of stuff often enough to form a convincing sample. So I have a small request: if you should find yourself at McDonald's drive-through -- or somewhere else that offers a gendered toy option -- refuse to make a choice, and see what you get. (The drive-through is crucial: it strips any hints about the sex of the kid-meal eater.) And then fill out the survey below.

Curious to see where we end up ...

Brian Reid writes about parenting and work-family balance. You can read his blog at

By Brian Reid |  August 31, 2009; 7:00 AM ET  | Category:  Family Travel , Food
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We have kind of outgrown the happy meals so I doubt we'll be able to attempt the test, but I do agree that boy toys are way cooler.

I want to know how may people will remember to come back to this page and vote, I say 12 will actually do it.

Posted by: cheekymonkey | August 31, 2009 7:42 AM | Report abuse

I don't know that I agree, cheekymonkey, that boy toys are "way cooler." Way cooler to whom? Maybe to you, and kind of to me, but there are girls who WANT the American Girl book or Barbie compact. I really don't like the premise that if something is feminine, it must therefore be less desirable. I just wish, instead of asking if you want a girl toy or boy toy, they ask, "would you like a lego racecar or a Barbie compact toy?" That way the kid could decide.

When I was a kid there were just toys. I remember my sister and I had a gallon-ziplock bag full of legos from the amount of small lego toys they gave us in our happy meals. The "lego" cars they gave my son actually kind of suck. You don't really build them. Just a couple of dedicated pieces that snap together. The ones I had were about 15 actual legos that built a helicopter or airplane or car or something.

Posted by: Mazarin | August 31, 2009 8:12 AM | Report abuse

80% of the places we go to forget to put a toy in at all. Or they put in two. Or a chicken foot.

How do you say "surprise me" in Spanish?

Posted by: 06902 | August 31, 2009 8:22 AM | Report abuse

I think boy toy as default is just an extension of the freedom women have to play on both sides of the fence. We can wear skirts and heels or we can wear boots and jeans. Men and boys do not have the same latitude. As I told my daughter, its better to be a girl, except when you need to go to the bathroom in the woods.

Posted by: moxiemom1 | August 31, 2009 8:28 AM | Report abuse

When I was little I liked the McDonalds boy toys better too. But I think it was because I could play with my brother with them.

For those of you who are going to attack McDonalds, they actually have very rigorous quality control standards in place. Maybe 30 years ago that wasn't the case but it is now. Also,they have strict rules about how their suppliers can treat their animals and McDonalds gives a ton of money to charity. I say this all because I think they get a really bad rap in the media.

Posted by: sunflower571 | August 31, 2009 8:37 AM | Report abuse

Many, many years ago, back in the dark ages, I worked at McDonalds. Long enough ago that I was there for the initall roll-out of the chicken mcnugget.

Back in those days, the toys were not gendered. There was one toy, and one of the side work jobs was popping open Happy Meal boxes, dropping a toy in, and stacking them up so they would be ready when a rush hit (yes, this was also before happy meals came in a paper bag, there was a sturdy box that held the food). When a happy meal was ordered, the runner would just grab the top box, and fill it with appropriate sandwich (or nuggets, after they were happy-meal-ized) and fries. No need to think about it.

I sorta wish this would happen again. There were such cool toys back before they were gendered. I distinctly remember having ALL the little mermaid toys at one point in time (I worked at mcdonalds for 8 years...all of high school and the vast majority of college, before anyone points out that it would be impossible to be there for both the little mermaid promo and newly-released mcnuggets...). I'm still kicking myself for giving those toys to nieces and nephews; they'd be worth quite a bit by now!

Posted by: OrganicGal1 | August 31, 2009 8:58 AM | Report abuse

We keep a brick next to our driveway so the boys can smash up those plastic give-a-way toys and throw the pieces directly in the trash can before they make their way through the front door. For the boys, smashing up a toy to see how the moving parts inside work is much more interesting than the toy itself. As for the girls, I could never convince them to bash up their toys before pitching them.

Posted by: WhackyWeasel | August 31, 2009 9:10 AM | Report abuse

I agree with Moxiemom. It goes back to the double standard that it is generally considered acceptable for girls to play with boy toys but unacceptable for boys to play with girl toys.

Posted by: dennis5 | August 31, 2009 9:20 AM | Report abuse

My five year old daughter would MUCH rather have any kind of doll/make-up/Barbie stuff than a Lego Car. Cars are not interesting to her. Maybe a pink car with a Barbie in it would be interesting.

Really, I think the world would be a much bleaker place without princesses.

The interesting thing is that many 5 year old boys seem to think dolls and dress up and make up is cooler than Lego cars, too and that it is the parents who seem to have a hard time with the concept of their boys playing with dolls.

Posted by: michelleg1 | August 31, 2009 9:22 AM | Report abuse

"Really, I think the world would be a much bleaker place without princesses."

Perhaps, but wouldn't it be nice if in just one princess story, our heroine would say "Father (or Mother), our family has been ruling this land, however benignly, for centuries based on power granted us by birth - don't you think it would be the better part of valor to concede governance to a democratically elected populace?"

Maybe that will happen when Matchbox starts printing MPG stats on the back of the box....

Posted by: 06902 | August 31, 2009 9:41 AM | Report abuse

Oh 06902! Now I will never get this out of my head...

Listen, strange women lyin' in ponds distributin' swords is no basis for a system of government. Supreme executive power derives from a mandate from the masses, not from some farcical aquatic ceremony.

On topic, I agree with Whacky on this one - I make a huge effort to keep that craptastic plastic junk from crossing the threshold.

Posted by: VaLGaL | August 31, 2009 9:51 AM | Report abuse

I don't agree with the premise of this post. Legos and fake spy stuff are not any "cooler" than than American Girl books or Barbie compacts. My girls much prefer the latter, but would play with the former if its what they got. Just because a boy may not want to play with something does not make it "uncool." And, at least my 16 month old boy loves anything with mirrors, Barbie or not.

Posted by: CalBears1 | August 31, 2009 10:05 AM | Report abuse

@VaLGaL - I always thought it was watery tarts. Nice Python reference.

@06902 - Try saying caiyate. It'll work wonders for you.


Posted by: FairlingtonBlade | August 31, 2009 10:24 AM | Report abuse

Mazarin, The boy toys are/were "way cooler" to my kids, that's just how they feel. I was never much of a princess girly girl and my daughter is less so. If you and your kids want the girl toys - have at 'em! I couldn't care less if boys want to play with girl toys, as toddlers they all seem to play with everything.

I like Wacky's idea of smashing the plastic toys, nothing like working out a little agression and decluttering at the same time.

Posted by: cheekymonkey | August 31, 2009 10:28 AM | Report abuse

I have one of each (child), and we often ask for boy toys (and when there are hot wheels, I get a happy meal so I can have an extra hot wheel for the bottom of my purse). But sometimes, the boy toys are too lame. A few years ago, when my son was 4, he examined the display and decided that the semi-violent plastic gadget from a cartoon he'd never seen was not attractive to him, and chose the soft animal. So, when we approached the counter, we asked for the "girl toy." The guy behind the counter accepted this, but the person who came up to help him fill the order disagreed, saying, "Look, he's a boy." My son piped up: "There's no such thing as things that are just for girls and just for boys." He got his bunny, and happily fed it the little plastic carrot while he ate his nuggets.

Posted by: kcwc | August 31, 2009 10:30 AM | Report abuse

I am the youngest of three girls. Grew up way too late for happy meals.
Must say that all I wanted growing up was matchbox cars. They just looked SO cool.
I got mostly hand me downs, and we NEVER had as many toys as kids have today. I never asked for much at all, knowing I wasn't going to get it - so I never asked for the cars. But boy did I want them.
We had really cool barbies (my grandmother made clothes for them). And they were fun, but not really my thing. When I was 'all grown up' I ran into a friend I hadn't seen in years. It was funny, cause she was talking about how we had the coolest barbies ever. :)

Posted by: atlmom1234 | August 31, 2009 10:32 AM | Report abuse

"Grew up way too late for happy meals."

Er, I meant EARLY.

Posted by: atlmom1234 | August 31, 2009 10:36 AM | Report abuse

Not sure if I agree. We actually loved the American Girl book and thought the lego racers were just OK.

The AG books came with a small synopsis of the historical character, historical stickers, paper dolls with two mini scenes and a craft. If you ask me that is a pretty darn good HM toy.

My daughter already has two of those historical AG dolls and is quite versed in all the historical characters. But she loved the paper dolls and mini scenes. Stickers are always a big hit with my daughter.

We also sat and made each of the small crafts.

But we like the American Girl books and dolls. So I think it depends if your interested in them.

My daughter likes the small barbies and the my little ponies. She uses them in small play sets and they make wonderful toys for her other dolls.

My son is quite young but we did pick up a few of the lego racers for later on. But we only thought they were OK.

We also like the mini beanie baby stuffed animals. I think those are gender neutral but my son loved them and daugher wasn't that interested.

Posted by: foamgnome | August 31, 2009 10:45 AM | Report abuse

foamgnome must really like to type.

Posted by: jezebel3 | August 31, 2009 11:16 AM | Report abuse

For awhile Wendy's was giving out Magic Tree House Story CDs, now THAT was a good "toy"!

Posted by: moxiemom1 | August 31, 2009 11:20 AM | Report abuse

Seems to me that whenever we get Happy Meals, the toys we get are whatever they have leftover in a box from some previous batch--they are always out of the current promotion.

But I have to disagree that the boy toys are cooler than the girl toys. It seems about 50/50 to me, and my daughter always chooses based on what she likes best. In a contest between Lego cars and AG books, the AG book will win every time. The girl toys also seem to have more variety--we've seen books, "girl" action figures, tiny stuffed animals, small dolls, etc. The boy toys are always a vehicle of some sort or an action figure of some sort.

And of COURSE the default is a boy toy when you ask them to "surprise" you--girls are more likely to be open minded enough to be happy playing with a boy toy while most boys won't go anywhere near a girl toy. I see the same thing in the selection of reading material in schools--while there are fabulous novels for elementary and middle school kids with female protagonists, the vast majority of the books chosen for reading groups are meant to appeal to boys. I know we're trying to encourage boys to read more, but come on! Can't we also encourage them to be more tolerant and open-minded?

Posted by: Sarahfran | August 31, 2009 11:25 AM | Report abuse

As someone who always liked the Hot Wheels HM toys when I was a girl (before these days of two "gendered" choices), I hate having to answer "boy toy" or "girl toy." When we go to McD's (about once a month), I'll be specific and ask for the (fill in the blank - animal, car, spygear, whatever) toy for my sons.

About half the time, though, the cashier's follow-up question will be, "Do you mean the boy toy or the girl toy?" I find that response frustrating when I'm trying to teach my sons that, in this day and age, they can play with whatever toys they damn well please.

Posted by: J2-D2 | August 31, 2009 11:39 AM | Report abuse

Jezebel could use a boytoy.

Posted by: emily8 | August 31, 2009 12:03 PM | Report abuse

Wow, two dozen comments and so far nobody has bragged that their child has never set foot in a fast food restaurant and only eats organic stone ground lentil wafers.

The parent blogosphere must have mellowed lately.

Posted by: di89 | August 31, 2009 12:16 PM | Report abuse

We're in a good place with McDonalds - it's still a 'treat' when we go and the kids don't yell for us to stop just because they can see it out the window. With travel, we've probably gotten Happy Meal toys a dozen times this summer. I am amazed by how much our boys want the toys and play intensively with the toys for about 20 minutes - then they just forget about them and they quickly disappear. I know they are cheap crap but I can't get over how their desirability goes from 100 to 0 in such a short time.

We do have Magic Tree House Story CD from Wendys and we still listen to "Dinosaurs after dark" - that's good stuff.

Posted by: KS100H | August 31, 2009 12:54 PM | Report abuse

I avoid fast food for the kids so I'm no expert but my problem with boys vs. girls cheap promo toys is that the male-gendered toys are designed for manipulation and action unlike a book or a compact mirror. Seems to me the definition of toy would encourage the use of imaginative play.

Posted by: flabbergast | August 31, 2009 1:14 PM | Report abuse

I guess it depends on your perspective. My 4 yo was at a pool party lately where a few girls brought Barbies... he intensely wanted one after that.

I have to admit that I was torn between getting over my own prejudice that Barbie is for girls and getting over my prejudice that Barbie is just not fabulous for anyone. Luckily my mother, who refused to buy me a Barbie but caved when others supplied the goods, had /kept/ all the Barbie stuff she hated and was able to pull it out and supply my son with not only several Barbies and many outfits but also a camper van, Barbievette, and workout room... at her house.

He loved them. For that day anyway. We'll see what happens.

So... yeah I'm not convinced that girl toys are inherently uncool.

Posted by: Shandra1 | August 31, 2009 1:30 PM | Report abuse

My two cents-- the CD promos are the best. Kids Bop CD found in a HM a year ago is still much enjoyed by my 5 year old son AND his 2 year old sister. they should just go to gender neutral gifts.

Posted by: captiolhillmom | August 31, 2009 1:53 PM | Report abuse

I guess it depends on your kids. For my kids, the "boy" toys are WAY cooler -- both my boy and my girl are very active and like toys that do things, which typically seem to exclude the "girl" toy options. I do get annoyed by the stereotyping (boys like to do things, girls like to sit around and look in the mirror??). Why can't we just have a toy, period?

I like Chick-fil-A -- the toys weren't as interesting when my kids were littler, but that made them easier to ditch quickly. :-) And they're not some walking ad for the latest movie. Of course, now my boy has decided that one of the little books we got from there is his favorite book, which he wants to read every night.

Posted by: laura33 | August 31, 2009 4:07 PM | Report abuse

I have to go with KS100H. The few toys that have ended up in our house have 100% attraction for about 30 minutes and then I haven't seen the kids touch them since.

The only time I actually remember being in McDonalds with them, the Happy Meal just simply came with a toy. No questions were asked and in fact - they ended up with the same toy (I have a boy and girl) They were not impressed with that although I thought it would have stopped a lot of fighting.

Posted by: Billie_R | August 31, 2009 4:18 PM | Report abuse

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