Family Matters

One Girl’s Quest to Make the Easy-Bake Oven More Boy-Friendly

Cooking isn't just for girls, so culinary-inspired toys shouldn't be either, says McKenna Pope

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Fototrove / Tom Gautier Photography / Getty Images

Pink and purple are not 4-year-old Gavyn Boscio’s favorite colors. But cooking is, and he really, really wants an Easy-Bake Oven for Christmas.

Easy-Bake Ovens, however, come in nothing but pink and light purple, as his parents and his 13-year-old sister, McKenna Pope, found out when they went shopping for one last week near their home in Garfield, N.J. Not only did they not find any Easy-Bake Ovens in any primary colors, but the products were displayed in boxes with smiling girls on the packaging. No boys. Not even one.

McKenna, who is in eighth grade, was outraged. Her mother, Erica Boscio, recalls her saying the packaging of the mini-ovens was “detrimental to society.”

“She really talks like that,” says Boscio.

You might think that in the enlightened, gender-neutral era in which we live — where boys are encouraged to cry and girls hurtle into space — that boys would be included in advertising for a toy oven. Males, after all, still outnumber women as professional chefs in restaurant kitchens. “This perpetuates that whole situation where girls cook and boys don’t,” says McKenna, who thoroughly researched the oven’s apparent antipathy to boys by watching every ad she could find online (all girls as far as she could tell) and perusing Hasbro’s Easy-Bake FAQs, which describe the product as a “fashionable fun food brand that inspires tween girls to bake, share and show their creativity.”

Tween girls? “That put her over the top,” says Boscio. “She said, Mom, I have to do something about this. I’m going to film a video.”

(MORE: Why Are Parents Less Likely to Take Little Girls Outside to Play?)

On Wednesday, she uploaded to YouTube the short clip featuring young Gavyn unfortunately buying into traditional gender stereotypes and slapped a petition on Change.org. She’s not a newcomer to the site; earlier this year, McKenna got her introduction to how social-media can trigger change when she added her signature to a petition about Trayvon Martin. In her Easy-Bake statement, she provided evidence for her brother’s zest for the culinary arts by describing a recent episode in which he’d heated up tortillas using the light bulb in his lamp.”

Obviously, this is not a very safe way for him to be a chef, so when he asked Santa for his very own Easy-Bake Ultimate Oven, produced by the Hasbro company, for me to help him be the cook he’s always wanted to be, my parents and I were immediately convinced it was the truly perfect present.

However, we soon found it quite appalling that boys are not featured in packaging or promotional materials for Easy Bake Ovens — this toy my brother’s always dreamed about.

…I feel that this sends a clear message: women cook, men work.

…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. There are, as a matter of fact, a multitude of very talented and successful male culinary geniuses, i.e. Emeril, Gordon Ramsay, etc. Unfortunately, Hasbro has made going against the societal norm that girls are the ones in the kitchen even more difficult.

McKenna wants Hasbro to include boys in its promotional materials and offer the Easy Bake in primary colors. Hasbro did not have an official reaction as of Sunday.

(MORE: Kids Who Don’t Gender Conform Are at Higher Risk of Abuse)

It turns out that gender equality in toys is not such a radical idea. If she lived in Sweden, for example, she could consider it done. The country’s Top-Toy Group, affiliated with Toys “R” Us, has turned a gender-blind eye toward the holiday season, publishing a toy catalog that shows girls with (toy) guns and boys blowdrying hair and cozying up with dolls. And last year in England, British toy store Hamley’s discontinued its practice of grouping “girl” toys on pink floors and “boy” playthings on blue floors.

Sweden’s gender-neutral approach comes after an advertising watchdog criticized Top-Toy for pigeonholing children, with its traditional ads that featured boys wielding guns and girls playing house. According to the Wall Street Journal:

The Swedish government has been on the front line of efforts to engineer equality between men and women, with generous paternity benefits and plans to spend the equivalent of some $340 million through 2014 on boosting gender equality in the workplace.

…State-funded child care structures put in place after World War II have enabled women to return to work after having children, and four different government entities are devoted to the issue.

The U.S. is a long way from devoting those kinds of resources to ensuring equity between the sexes. But if McKenna keeps pushing, she just might encourage a major American toy manufacturer to — as she says in her petition — “help the children of today become what they’re destined to be tomorrow,” hopefully paying no attention to outdated gender stereotypes.

(MORE: Boy or Girl? Why Dads Want Sons, but Moms Want Daughters)