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Dec 28 2012

Easy-Bake Gender

My sister had an Easy-Bake Oven when we were kids. I recall it having a lot of pink, but not much else about it. I remember vividly the commercials for the one that looked like an oven, but I don’t think that was it. The model my sister had could very likely be this one, based on the timing:

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I also strongly recall spending my allowance for the cake mixes so I could make up a batch of cupcakes myself on at least two occasions. Yes, it was regular old cake mix, and yes you cooked it by putting it next to a light bulb in a tiny enclosed plastic fire hazard box, but there was something magical and alchemy-like about turning powder and water into cake. It probably had something to do with my latent interest in science, why cooking seemed like chemistry; or it might have also been my latent desire to stuff my craw with sugar. Either way, I think with my two forays into cooking with my sister’s Easy-Bake, I outstripped her own interest.

It’s for this reason that I believe Hasbro already makes a gender-neutral Easy-Bake Oven, despite this recent (successful) campaign.

The problem with gender and Easy-Bake Ovens stems not from the color or design of the oven. The original ovens were relatively gender-neutral colors like green and yellow. The gender-specificity of the Easy-Bake Oven as a toy came originally from the prevailing gender norm that WOMEN did all the cooking. That, and as televisions gained ubiquity and television commercials started advertising to kids instead of adults, they always showed girls playing with it.

Then the marketing started pinkifying and making “pretty” the design of the oven, around the 1990s.

Why? Because it wasn’t gender-specific ENOUGH, I guess.

And yet, prior to the 1990s remodels, none of them were pink; all of them were oven-shaped until the advent of the microwave. (A kitchen appliance so dead-simple even a STUPID MALE WHO ISN’T THE HOUSEWIFE could use it, hur dur.) So what exactly is 13-year-old McKenna Pope asking for — and getting, now that the campaign was successful? There’s nothing about the Easy-Bake that’s inherently for girls. They MADE gender-neutral Easy-Bakes at one point, then stopped.

So, obviously, Hasbro’s acquiescence to this request is, ultimately, an admission that the toy itself is not inherently gendered. Making it chrome and putting boys in the ads is just changing how you’re MARKETING it. This is just a way to give boys an “out” from all the gender-policing they’ll get because they have a “girls’ toy.” And that gender-policing is probably going to happen anyway.

And beyond all that, it’s entrenching the idea that certain shapes or colors are too frilly for boys — that the newest model is too abstract or has too many floral patterns on it; that it only comes in pink or purple and those aren’t boy colors. That idea has no truck with me. The toy itself is not made gender-neutral by making it black and chrome and angular. You could market it to boys even if it was pink and fluffy. You just wouldn’t be marketing it to the boys’ PARENTS.

14 comments

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  1. 1
    Natalie Reed

    Way way way too often we say “gender neutral” when what we mean is “make it masculine, because femininity is too gendered”.

    And the way around pinkification definitely isn’t machoization (conditioner FOR MEN, deoderant FOR MEN, pilates FOR MEN, GUYliner, the MAN’S spa treatment without that froo-froo BULLSHIT, the MURSE, MANLY MAN MACHO LEG EPILATORS FOR MENNNNNZ!!!!)

  2. 2
    Natalie Reed

    P.S.

    Also kinda weird in that I think pinkification and machoization both emerge and evolve and get worse over time from the same conversation happening over and over:

    “hmmm…. we want to sell more widgets!”
    “Well, I’m from a fancy consulting agency, and I noticed your demographics are limited!”
    “Oh? Do tell!”
    “Yes! Do to cultural norms of gender and gender roles, only men (or only women) use and buy widgets!”
    “AH HA! So we challenge those cultural norms of gender and broaden them so everyone feels secure in buying our widgets?”
    “Heavens no! We’re BUSINESSMEN, not ACTIVISTS! We’re just going to make and aggressively market a VERSION of widgets that brands itself as “for women” (or “for men”).”

  3. 3
    Jason Thibeault

    Hah. Yeah. That’s pretty close to exactly the same board room conversation I expect happened this time after the campaign to Hasbro.

    “We want more girls!” -> “Make it pink!”
    “We want more boys!” -> “Make it explode!”

  4. 4
    Abdul Alhazred

    Real men bake cookies in real ovens. ;)

  5. 5
    Gvlgeologist, FCD

    If you want to see the opposite direction of genderification, go to a Lowes or Home Depot and look for tools marketed for women. I kid you not, the principle difference is that they’re pink.

  6. 6
    Apparently Not Erin

    I actually supported this petition. You might think I’m a little crazy but I’ve got a reason. The first time I got pregnant, I said “No pink” before I knew if I was having a boy or a girl (or a redhead for that matter). I flat out refuse to buy pink things for my kids unless they ask for them.

    When I was a little redhead, the world was just moving into dressing their little girls like fruit flavoured marshmallows and I suddenly went from wearing my brother’s blue and brown hand-me-downs to getting ugly pastel pink clothes as gifts from family members. I hated it and that started a life-long dislike of the colour pink (which really can be pretty, I just don’t like it).

    Now that I’ve got three boys, does pink creep into our house? Oh yes: Misty Mints, cotton candy, twisted up with the green and white marshmallow in Santa Legs, on cream bottles, the carpet (need wood floors), and most importantly on a T-shirt for the anti-bully pink shirt day. But never on a toy unless it’s unavoidable.

    I would never have bought a pink Easy Bake oven. It’s not because I have boys, it’s because I don’t like pink. I supported it because I like options and if the only option is white with pink and purple or worse, pink and purple with pink and purple on it like the Easy-Bake Ultimate Oven (I swear it looks like a toaster), I won’t buy it. There IS currently another option – it’s white with teal on it. I’d get that one…maybe. Then again, they’re for age eight and up and by the time I was eight, I did my baking in the real oven. I’d be more inclined to get one for my almost 5-year-old and only let him use it with parental supervision

  7. 7
    Nepenthe

    @Gvlgeologist

    The other differences are that they’re more expensive and more poorly made.

  8. 8
    Peter Ferguson

    Until recently, maybe 20 years ago, it was the norm in mixed secondary schools (high-school) for students for students be split by gender. For instance girls would go off and do home economics and the boys would metal/wood work.

  9. 9
    Tracey

    My Easy-Bake oven from the early 1970s was the most hideous shade of burnt orange with avocado trim. Nobody my age liked that color, boys or girls. Nobody consulted us about it; those were the colors the Baby Boomers were into, so Gen X was stuck with them, too.

    I graduated high school in the early 1980s, and if there were home ec classes at my high school, I was completely unaware of them. Girls weren’t herded into them. My elective class was guitar, which had both boys and girls (I don’t recall the proportions). How far back we’ve slipped since then.

  10. 10
    Giliell, professional cynic -Ilk-

    I was born in 1979. My first daughter was born in 2007. Raising her feels a lot more like 1960 than 1985. Everything is split by gender. And a little pink goes a long way.
    We gave her a bike for christmas and she (fortunately) fell in love with one that didn’t make my eyes hurt. Clearly the dominant colour is white, and there’s at least as much blue in it as pink. But that pink clearly makes it a Girl Bike™. Same with clothes: Cargo pants: No way! Boy-coded! Tiny griffin embroidered in pink? Girl trousers!

    No, I don’t want to make things “masculine” to make them “neutral”. I want masculinity and femininity to die in a fire.
    And what’s wrong about red, green and yellow and a whole bunch of shades that have completely vanished because they aren’t boy or girl coded?

    Since we haven’t told them that they’re not supposed to like them, they happily enjoy our old Legos (which were made in a time when Lego was for boys and girls alike).

    And a positive example:
    Magformers. Horribly expensive but extremely cool and marketed to boys AND girls. And easily to overlook for me that they’re only for white kids…

  11. 11
    Sheesh

    Lest we forget “Home Economics” actually only taught sewing/cooking 20 years ago (and that the bifurcation of students this way is obviously sexist). It wasn’t about the economics part at all by that time. By the 90s and perhaps earlier, I can’t recall, boys could take Home Ec if they chose to (and had the courage to, wink.)

    What “Home Economics” should have been called in the 80s, but wasn’t is now called “Personal Finanace” and should be –and should have been back then– taken by most students, boys and girls (but isn’t, it’s elective.)

  12. 12
    Sheesh

    As usual, after posting, I realized that maybe I could have said that in a way that sounds less stupid. I’m trying to say that the useful parts of “home ec”, budgetting, money management, etc. those have been subsumed by the course Personal Finance, and everyone should be taking that. Sewing, cooking, woodshop and metalworking are all fine elective pursuits for boys and girls.

  13. 13
    timgueguen

    And speaking of “products for girls” the gun business is trying to market to women by offering pistols and such with pink accents, like the Ruger LCP Arizona State Senator Lori Klein became infamous after she waved her pink LCP at a reporter interviewing her last year.

  14. 14
    Dont Panic

    Yeah the pink – blue divide has been around a long time. I can’t remember what color my sisters’ EzBake (~69?) was, but I did use it. And in high school I teased a friend about his pink“dusty rose” shirt.

    Hmm, I was one of those “brave” males who took “home ec” back in the days, circa ’78. I don’t remember being particularly ostersized for this gender transgression; though by that point I was already an odd duck. Mostly what I remember from it was the failure of my bread to correctly rise which traumatized me so that I don’t think I baked bread from scratch since.

    On the other hand, the girl who took auto class the same year as me was treated abominably (not harassed so much as patted on the head dismissively )

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