McDonald’s Trying To Stop Differentiating Between “Girls” And “Boys” Toys In Happy Meals

McDonald's current Happy Meal toy options.

McDonald’s current Happy Meal toy options.

McDonald’s has long offered two types of choices in its Happy Meal toys — one targeted to boys and one aimed at girls. But not every boy wants a robot fighter and not every girl craves a pink winged pony; an idea that a number of McDonald’s employees didn’t seem to understand. So in response to concerns that the fast food mega-chain was ignoring some young customers’ requests, McDonald’s is now teaching workers to leave gender out of the Happy Meal discussion.

In an article for Slate.com, Connecticut high school student Antonia Ayres-Brown writes of her years of trying to get McDonald’s to understand that you can’t simply assume what kind of toy kids will want based on whether or not they have a Y chromosome.

When she was 11, she wrote the McDonald’s CEO and raised questions about whether it was proper for employees to ask customers if they want the “girl toy” or the “boy toy,” pointing out that you wouldn’t ask a job applicant if he or she wanted “a man’s job or a woman’s job.”

The response from McDonald’s customer service merely stated that employees were not trained to ask the “boy” or “girl” question and that her experience was a fluke.

And so Antonia and her father, a Yale law professor, visited more than a dozen McDonald’s restaurants in the area, only to find that 79% of the time they were asked the boy/girl questions.

The Connecticut Commission on Human Rights and Opportunities looked at her data and declared it “absurd,” but that was not the end of the road for Antonia, who undertook a larger study in the summer of 2013.

The test sent 30 young boys and girls into 15 different McDonald’s to order a Happy Meal.

“We found that 92.9 percent of the time, the store, without asking, simply gave each child the toy that McDonald’s had designated for that child’s gender,” writes Antonia. “What’s worse was the trouble the children encountered when they immediately returned to the counter and asked to exchange their unopened toy: 42.8 percent of stores refused to exchange for an opposite-sex toy.”

She claims that in one case, a young female customer was asked if she wanted the girl’s toy. When she said she wanted the boy-targeted toy, the employee went ahead and put in the girl-themed toy anyway. The customer went back to the counter to ask for the other toy but was told there were no boy toys left. However, when an adult went into that same restaurant and requested a boy’s toy, there was no issue fulfilling that request.

Antonia took her new data back to McDonald’s HQ, and eventually received a much more promising response from the company.

“It is McDonald’s intention and goal that each customer who desires a Happy Meal toy be provided the toy of his or her choice, without any classification of the toy as a ‘boy’ or ‘girl’ toy and without any reference to the customer’s gender,” reads a letter from the company’s Chief Diversity Officer. “We have recently re-examined our internal guidelines, communications and practices and are making improvements to better ensure that our toys are distributed consistent with our policy.”

That was back in December, and anyone who has read as many “we’re taking this seriously” statements from companies like McDonald’s knows that sometimes these pronouncements are empty calories meant to shut people up for a while.

And earlier this year, McDonald’s Happy Meals were criticized for the toys tied to the Cartoon Network series Adventure Time. Even though the show has a large female fan base and numerous female characters, none of those female characters were made into Happy Meal toys. Meanwhile, the other option for a Happy Meal toy at the time were a series of Paul Frank items that were heavy on the pink: a handbag, a journal, a sticker dispenser, a tin of stickers, a bobblehead, and a pair of “best friends” bracelets.

But McDonald’s may indeed be moving forward on its promise to retrain its employees about how to deal with gender and Happy Meals. Earlier this month, this sign was spotted a McDonald’s telling employees “When a customer orders a happy meal you must ask ‘will that be a My Little Pony toy? Or a Skylanders toy?’. We will no longer refer to them as ‘boy or girl toys.’”

“Retailers don’t need to use girl’s and boy’s categories when they can just describe the toys that are available and let kids choose the ones that appeal to them most,” writes Antonia.

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  1. oomingmak says:

    My (now 7-year-old) son always asks for a My Little Pony toy whenever one is available. We’ve never run into any problems at all. He’s definitely heading towards Brony territory.

  2. careycat says:

    This is great. Outside the gender political correctness, my daughter loves Transformers. Michael Bay”s movies draw young people of both genders, so this is GREAT for when McD’s does the tie-in toys this time around for Age of Extinction.

  3. Naskarrkid says:

    They could just offer one toy for everyone like all of the other fast food joints and avoid the problem all together. Another way to fix it would be to ask whoever if they want the Hot Wheels meal or the Hello Kitty meal, instead of asking if it’s for a boy or girl.

  4. JoeBlow says:

    The one problem I think this could lead to would be in locations either primarily staffed or primarily patronized by non-fluent English speakers. Rather than explaining ponies or adventure time, or other things that the customer might not be familiar with, they may want to have a card next to the register with pictures of the toy choices, and if they have two options like they usually do now, they could be labeled “A” and “B.”

    • LauraNorthrup says:

      On the ground, at least where I’ve lived, how this works in practice is that even if you ask for the Barbie or the My Little Pony by name, the clerk will check to make sure you mean the “girl toy.”

  5. evlpete says:

    for me it seems to be no difference between what I ask for and what I get for my two children