MCDonald’s recently unveiled their new lineup of Happy Meal toys, slated to start appearing at a drive-through near you on Friday. Fans of Cartoon Network’s series Adventure Time are thrilled to find their favorite animated characters available for purchase along with their burgers and fries. Except something seems to be missing.
You wouldn’t know it from the Happy Meal offerings, but Adventure Time does indeed have female characters. More than one, in fact. Popular ones–like the Lumpy Space Princess, Princess Bubblegum, and Marceline the Vampire Queen–with fans of their own and everything.
As they have done for years, McDonald’s has separate “boys” and “girls” Happy Meal toy line-ups because reasons. The Adventure Time set, devoid of the distaff half of the cast, is the new pile of boys’ toys. The six-toy lineup includes two toys each of Jake and Finn, and one each of the Ice King and Beemo.
Girls, meanwhile, get a line-up of six pink-heavy Paul Frank toys: a handbag, a journal, a sticker dispenser, a tin of stickers, a bobblehead, and a pair of “best friends” bracelets.
Compounding the insult? The boys get actual toys that do stuff. Finn’s versions are bendy or sword-swinging; Jake’s are bendy or spring-loaded. Speaking as an adult who was once a young girl who did, in fact, always love books and journals? Journals aren’t toys. You cannot play with them. They are a crappy Happy Meal prize.
As we all of course know, children are completely incapable of being fans of fictional characters of the opposite sex. That’s why no girl has ever liked Harry Potter, and no boy in the entire country knows a thing about The Hunger Games.
More seriously, the assumptions underlying this marketing maneuver are bad ones, and the messages they send are part of a cultural stew that doesn’t do any kids, either boys or girls, any favors.
The first faulty assumption: only boys watch Adventure Time. It’s true that the show is very highly-rated among boys, but they’re not the exclusive audience. Girls like the show too. At least, though, girls can still get the Adventure Time toys; McDonald’s lets customers order girl or boy meals as they will.
The other flawed underlying asumption is far worse: that boys cannot handle girls in their media or their toys. Boys apparently cannot cope with even the specter of girl cooties mixing with their McNuggets, and so a six-toy set is better off duplicating male characters rather than bothering to include any of the female ones.
Any parent, or anyone else who has shopped for toys or clothes for small children lately, is familiar with how deeply entrenched the color-coded gender divide is in kids’ products these days. It’s bad enough to do that with anything, but as io9 points out, it seems particularly ill-chosen to segregate the girls out of a show that has so very many female characters and has even gender-swapped its own cast with aplomb.
Research shows that girls and women are still woefully under-represented in children’s media, with male characters outnumbering female ones 3 to 1. Adventure Time is a show that actually makes a point of keeping female characters on-screen. Overlooking all of them entirely in a toy set for anyone, even or perhaps especially one marketed at boys, is unfair all around.