All Easter weekend, Kinder ran its Kinder Surprise Pascuas edition commercial and given that I spent the majority of Easter weekend holed up on the couch, I saw this commercial repeatedly.

It bothered me every time it came on TV.

A week later, it still bothers me. Most commercials are insufferable in their own way, but this one in particular irked me for its happy-go-lucky gender stereotyping. If you haven’t seen the commercial, the basic premise is that a mother and father gift their son a blue Kinder egg and their daughter a pink one, and then the eggs fly off-screen to show the toys housed inside. The pink “girl’s” egg cracks open to reveal dolls and jewelry, while the blue “boy’s” egg holds cars and robots (and then there’s a green egg that isn’t really addressed – a rogue gender-neutral option?). I couldn’t find the current commercial on YouTube, but the non-Easter commercial and the Easter commercial from last year are available (combine the two and you get the idea).

 

 

 

I thought the whole point of Kinder Surprise was that the toy was actually a surprise, but the possibility of giving your son a girly toy and scarring him for life is SIMPLY TOO BIG A RISK TO TAKE.

A few years ago, my older sister worked at a gaming store in Southern California. During her training period a few of her fellow employees suggested that she ask parents shopping for video games for their children whether the game was for their son or daughter. Being an intelligent person, my sister saw this as a ridiculous exercise and tried to approach the child in question as an individual human being with personal tastes rather than simply a collection of chromosomes. A father once came in asking for games that could utilize the Kinect on an Xbox, and a salesperson named a Broadway themed game. The dad clarified that it was for his son and they both laughed out loud at the idea of a boy using a Broadway themed video game. In a different take, a mother responded to the suggestion that she buy “girly” games for her daughter by saying, “My kids don’t care if the game is for girls or boys, they play what they like.”

While there exist parents like the mother above who don’t buy into the bullshit that boys and girls need different kinds of toys, gender policing is a pretty common tactic when it comes to marketing children’s toys (unless you live in Sweden). As Antonia Ayres-Brown published on Slate last week, McDonald’s follows a similar approach of restricting children’s access to Happy Meal toys based on their gender. Her article outlines her struggle to get McDonald’s employees to give toys based on individual preferences rather than gender, a request that has pretty much fallen on deaf ears.

Kinder unleashed its gender-coded eggs on the UK as well, and despite complaints at the regressive use of gender stereotyping back in November, commercials for the blue and pink surprise eggs continue to run. Ferrero, the company that produces the eggs, responded by saying that the colored eggs “would merely allow parents to choose the most relevant product for their child.” Which is marketing speak for: “We drank the gender stereotyping Kool-Aid and we liked it.”

It’s easy to dismiss criticisms of gendered children’s toys as ridiculous, or a waste of time in the face of bigger issues. That’s exactly what happened to María José Lubertino, the secretary of political action for the Broad Front party, whose criticism of Kinder last Easter was not met with the warmest reception by the Argentine media.

I spoke to Lubertino this weekend about the gendered Kinder Surprise toys and she remains steadfast in her claims against the gender division. The explicitly harmful consequences of a misogynistic and sexist society, like gender-based violence, and gender stratification in education and employment, “originate in the small things that are minimized and naturalized, such as gender stereotypes.” When we’re conditioned from a very young age to see femininity as “synonymous with weakness and subordination”, as Kira Cochrane wrote in the Guardian last week on gendered toys, the leap to violence against women is a fairly small one to make.

And it’s no coincidence that when “girls are given the constant message that science, technology and construction are not for them” that there are so few adult women pursuing careers in science and technology fields.

There is nothing wrong with boys liking cars and robots and girls liking dolls and makeup (I for one had a whole collection of Barbie dolls and dressed up as Cinderella for Halloween at least once in my youth). The problem is the assumption that these preferences are entirely “natural” and not in fact a product of socialization, and equally problematic is the denial that these assumptions about boys and girls can have negative effects on adult lives. The effects are particularly negative for girls, who are consistently told from childhood to adulthood that they need “special” pink products like laptops, trucks, microscopes and telescopes, and even Bic Pens for Her, that are especially suited to our female needs by being less powerful than their male/gender-neutral counterparts, offering fewer functions and marketed to “feminine” pursuits like wedding planning and child rearing. Boys get to be intelligent, but girls should focus just on being pretty; boys are active creators, and girls are passive consumers. Gendered products are not born out of a natural order, but are simply a marketing tool; even the widely accepted signifier of pink for girls and blue for boys that Kinder and other brands rely so heavily upon is a recent invention in Western society.

The assumption that toy preferences naturally divide along gender lines reinforces the idea that male and female tastes and behaviors exist in strict binaries, and anyone who deviates from those restrictive categories is somehow unseemly. Gender stereotypes affect boys negatively as well, as any male who steps outside the gender binary is severely questioned or ridiculed, and as Cochrane wrote, there is a “suspicion of any boy who embraces femininity.” Boys, like the one in Cochrane’s article who was subjected to bullying for bringing his My Little Pony toy to school, “are especially stigmatized for crossing the gender aisle in toys and clothes – a fact that seems to arise from a deep misogyny, homophobia and transphobia” – as in the hilarious idea of a boy playing a Broadway or musical theater themed video game (although if that unnerves you, do I have some news for you).

Still not sure who’s allowed to use what toy? Let me direct you to this info-graphic:

myers-toy_flow_chart-01
Image via Kristen Meyers Design

(Photo via Huffington Post)