Here's some happy news about Happy Meals!
Connecticut high school student Antonia Ayres-Brown has spent five years challenging the antiquated policy at McDonald's where kids are given toys with their meals based on gender. When little boys order their nuggets and fries, they get action hero figures. Girls get something pinker and sparklier. Antonia noticed the issue a few years ago, and has now written about her journey on Slate.com.
In 2008, she wrote to the CEO of McDonald's and suggested the company change its Happy Meal process. Antonia described her experiences at the drive-through, where employees always asked if they should provide a "girl toy" or a "boy toy." In the letter, she analogized the practice to an adult's job interview. Would it be OK "to ask at a job interview whether someone wanted a man’s job or a woman’s job?" Antonia, then 11, asked.
She received a response dismissing her concerns -- a letter that said McDonald's employees are not trained to classify toys by gender, and that her anecdote was unusual.
However, there are other stories that suggest Antonia's experience was, in fact, the norm. Last year, a woman named Meaghan Harris started a petition on Change.org asking McDonald's to stop promoting gender stereotypes through Happy Meal toys. An addition to that, there is certainly no shortage of essays that address the issue specifically. Here, here, and here, for example.
This past summer, Antonia did more research, using young boys and girls as subjects. The kids went into different McDonald's locations, ordered Happy Meals and observed which toys they were given. Antonia wrote about the results on Slate: "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—a Justice fashion toy for girls and a Power Rangers toy for boys."
Antonia took her findings straight to the top by writing another letter to the CEO, now Donald Thompson. And then, something awesome happened. She explains:
On Dec. 17, I received an amazing letter back from McDonald’s chief diversity officer, Patricia Harris, saying, “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. We have recently reexamined our internal guidelines, communications and practices and are making improvements to better ensure that our toys are distributed consistent with our policy.”
Antonia notes that while there's no guarantee that all McDonald's locations will ban assigning toys based on gender, the letter is certainly a step in the right direction. DoSomething.org posted a photo on Facebook of at least one location that's making strides:
Now, can we get a side of fries with that coolness?!