Written by a high school junior for lib rag Slate:
In the fall of 2008, when I was 11 years old, I wrote to the CEO of McDonald’s and asked him to change the way his stores sold Happy Meals. I expressed my frustration that McDonald’s always asked if my family preferred a “girl toy” or a “boy toy” when we ordered a Happy Meal at the drive-through. My letter asked if it would be legal for McDonald’s “to ask at a job interview whether someone wanted a man’s job or a woman’s job?”
A few weeks later, I received a short response from a McDonald’s customer satisfaction representative claiming that McDonald’s doesn’t train their employees to ask whether Happy Meal customers want boys’ or girls’ toys, and my experiences were not the norm.
This response was unsatisfying, so I began visiting more than a dozen local McDonald’s locations with my father to collect data. Ultimately, we brought a complaint to the Connecticut Commission on Human Rights and Opportunities against McDonald’s for discriminating on the basis of sex. Despite our evidence showing that, in our test, McDonald’s employees described the toys in gendered terms more than 79 percent of the time, the Commission dismissed our allegations as “absurd” and solely for the purposes of “titilation [sic] and sociological experimentation.” All in all, this was a pretty humiliating defeat. […]
While this notice does not ensure that all McDonald’s locations will stop treating kids differently because of their gender, it’s a start. The problem with Happy Meal toys may seem trivial to some, but consider this: McDonald’s is estimated to sell more than one billion Happy Meals each year. When it poses this question—“Do you want a boy’s toy or a girl’s toy?”—McDonald’s pressures innumerable children to conform to gender stereotypes. 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. After all, that’s been McDonald’s stated corporate policy for the last five years.