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what girls want

Not So Pretty in Pink (or Purple): The Backlash Over Gender-Specific Products

Posted by Mark J. Miller on December 12, 2012 12:24 PM

Most of America’s top-rated restaurants are run by male chefs, yet cooking is still conventionally considered to be something that women are more interested in than men. So where do these guys come from, anyway? Where did they keep themselves out of sight all their lives before getting their Michelin stars?

Well, one young fella who likely hopes to be on that list someday isn’t hiding himself away anymore. Four-year-old Gavyn Boscio of New Jersey has been thrown into the limelight this holiday season thanks to a hue and cry raised by his sister, 13-year-old McKenna Pope.

Gavyn would like to have an Easy-Bake Oven for Christmas but he told his family that knows that “only girls” cook. So Pope is lobbying Easy-Bake’s manufacturer, Hasbro, to not market the product exclusively to girls.

The least they could do, she says on her Change.org petition that has been signed by more than 40,000 people, is to put a boy or two on the packaging and offer it in a color other than pink or purple.

“I want my brother to know that it's not ‘wrong’ for him to want to be a chef, that it's okay to go against what society believes to be appropriate,” she writes. “There are, as a matter of fact, a multitude of very talented and successful male culinary geniuses, i.e. Emeril, Gordon Ramsey, etc. Unfortunately, Hasbro has made going against the societal norm that girls are the ones in the kitchen even more difficult.”

With stories on CNN and around the world about her campaign, Pope's plea has got more than a few supporters out there, including a slew of male chefs who teamed up to make a YouTube video encouraging others to sign the petition. 

Hasbro is, of course, not the first toy manufacturer to deal with gender-equality issues. Lego, for example, is a finalist for a 2012 TOADY award. You know, the Toys Oppressive and Destructive to Young Children award that the Campaign for a Commercial-Free Childhood hands out annually?

This year, the TOADY could go to Lego Friends, which caused an uproar when it came out early this year and is marketed to girls with girl characters in girly settings: a beauty salon, a cafe (with cupcakes, of course), a purple convertible, a splash pool, and a vet’s office. The line’s catch phrase? “The beauty of building.”

Lego Friends has, regardless, become a huge hit for the brand and expanded beyond traditional girlish pursuits, gaining defenders along the way.

Big girls are also being targeted with "not for boys" items. This summer Bic got in water after asking Ellen DeGeneres to be the face of a new line of pens “For Her” that were, of course, pink and purple. 

The comedian/talkshow host, no surprise, rejected the idea and then went ahead and made fun of the pens on her show with a monologue and faux commercial that had her saying such zingers as “They come in both lady colors: pink and purple, and they’re just like regular pens except they’re pink, so they cost twice as much.”

Also: “So, when we’re taking down dictation from our bosses, we’ll feel comfortable, and we’ll forget we’re not getting paid as much?” Plus, “When you have an opinion, write it down on a piece of paper, and then crumple it up and throw it away, because no one cares what we think, sweetie.” 

Brands' gender-targeting missteps aren't just an American phenom, of course. Koikeya's new potato chip line in Japan comes in conjoined heart design packaging with "his" and "her" flavors: Lemon Pepper for him, Sugar Pepper for her. After all, what brings couples closer together than a little sexist snacking?

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