"Well, she's been asking for Candy Land," said Darlene. My heart lifted. It's a rare thing these days when a 5-year-old forgoes wheedling for an iPad or clutching at the latest hand-held gaming device in exchange for the good, old-fashioned fun of a board game like Candy Land. My childhood set was decimated by hours of play. The box resembled something pulled from tornado wreckage: Cards bearing chew marks and crayon scrawls and more than one little cardboard figurine an armless, headless relic. I was all too happy to buy the game as a Christmas gift for my cousin's daughter.
A couple of precious days before the holiday sent me careening into Target along with everyone else on the planet. A gal on a mission, I bee-lined for the game section. After scanning the ransacked shelves without any luck, I accosted a red-shirted teenager who looked like he was seriously regretting his choice not to work on his uncle's fishing boat in Alaska. He steered me in the direction of an end cap a few aisles away, calling out to me as I hurried off, "They changed the box and packaging a little bit, but you should be able to spot it."
The packaging was about half the size of the long, thin box I remember. For a few seconds, I thought I was holding a Dungeons & Dragons, geek fantasy game. A diminutive, sexy lollipop fairy princess (thanks for the peppermint bra inspiration, Katy Perry) and sassy, seductive whip cream queen dominated the box's cover. I felt like climbing to the top of end cap and waving the game around like Norma Rae. Unfair! Uncool! I felt like breaking into a Liz Lemon rant about how gendering toy culture is a dangerous, slippery slope (If Tom Colicchio never had an Easy Bake Oven, you think Padma Lakshmi would have a job?), about how sexualizing young girls and kicky cartoon figures based on delicious confections is just gross and wrong on so many levels (I'll never look at a Halloween candy dish the same way) and about how it's past time that we had a G.I. Jane doll, a real one that honors women's contributions in the military and not just a jacked-up Barbie with a buzz cut in fatigues.
Instead, I gritted my teeth, plunked down my money and snapped a photo to post to my Facebook page. The dismay and condemnation on behalf of many of the moms in my social network nation did the rest.
Updates, redesigns and character makeovers are not new practices. Their messages about gender identity and social roles for girls and boys are predictable. They are met with derision, criticism and a flurry of articles and think pieces lamenting the steady slide backward for girls' (especially) cultural evolution. Not without justification. The only surprising aspect of these reboots is the sense that corporations believe they are effective sales tools instead of what they actually are: Wasted opportunities to move the gender conversation (and its market) in a different more inspired direction.