Thursday, July 26, 2007

Not-So-Happy Meals

I've been reading grumbles from readers and posters that they're upset about McDonald's not offering any female characters in next month's Legion Happy Meal deal. As I mentioned, they often have a "girl's toy" and a "boy's toy". The boys this time get the Legion figures, while the girls get "Build a Bear". (Note that I had previously said they get Polly Pocket, but I just realized that was the 2006 offering!).

Here's how one McDonald's describes what's in the August 2007 Happy Meal set:

Build a Bear Workshop & Legion of Superheroes Happy Meal
Dates: August 3rd thru August 30th

A celebration of Build a Bear's 10th birthday! Build and customize your own stuffed animal at McDonald's! This happy meal includes 8 new animals in adorable new outfits. Each animal comes with a fabric heart inside, just like the retail bears!

Build a Bear
Hearts for You & Vanilla Fudge
Fru Fru Poodle & Curly Teddy
Nikki's Bear & Playful Puppy
Spring Bear & Kitty

Legion of Superheroes began as a comic and is now an animated television series! The story takes place in the 31st century where a group of teenage superheroes go back in time to recruit the greatest super hero of all....Superman! This collection features 8 figurines that are delivered in comic book styled containers featuring scenes from memorable episodes and exclusive collector card!

Legion of Superheroes
Superman and Timberwolf
Lightning Lad & Mano
Tharok & Brainiac 5
Bouncing Boy & Validus

Not everyone is pleased, though, at the lack of female characters. A couple of examples:
  • Wabbitseason says "But still, the Legion has always been filled with female members, even leaders. It feels weird to not see that reflected in its toys. But no one wants girl toys. Except... y'know... girls."
  • madripoor_rose says "McDonald's is doing a Happy Meals tie-in promotion with Legion Of Superheroes cartoon...without one single female character getting a toy. Protest here please, and pass it around."
  • marag says "Just when I think I can't get more pissed...something happens to annoy me more. Right now, I'm irked because McDonalds is doing Happy Meal toys for the Legion of Superheroes, eight of them, and they don't include one female character. ::eyeroll:: I mean, it's not like there are any prominent female Legionnaires or villains in the toonverse, right?"

But see, the thing is - and I'm not defending McDonald's for doing this, just explaining what I think their reasoning is - the people complaining are not the target audience. Happy Meals are made for kids, probably 4-10, not those old enough to be their parents. Yes, parents drive their kids to the Happy Meal place and they're supposed to be providing guidance to their kids on what to eat and whatnot. But the toys, those are for the kids to play with. Always have been. If there are adults who collect and play with them, great, but you're not the target audience.

A 9-year old boy does not want an icky girl action figure - girls are dolls, and boys don't play with dolls. Girls are stupid. Boys want to play with boy toys, and fight, and break things. On the other hand, super-heroes and action figures are about fighting, and a 9-year old girl would (I presume, never having been one) rather play teddy bear dress up than play with icky boy toys. Boys are stupid.

Of course that's a sweeping generalization that doesn't always apply. But a large part of the time, it does. So it's more cost-effective to make toys that only appeal to the generalized public, otherwise they'd get stuck with toys nobody wants. And that hits at their bottom line.


SherylR said...

Speaking as the 9 year old girl I used to be, I would have LOVED girl Legion toys. I'm pretty sure my daughter would echo those sentiments, too.

I am equally sure I would have disliked a Build a Bear toy.

I never knew that women were a minority in comics reading until I got online. I saw plenty of female comics readers out at local cons and it never even crossed my mind that I was unusual.

I think that the Legion girl toys would have been great for girls, too. I am sure they are watching that cartoon.

Sterotypes are such a bore.

Anonymous said...

I'll echo all your sentiments, Sheryl, except for the one about women as a minority in comics readership: you must have very enlightened comics shops where you live. : )

I would have liked a Phantom Girl or a Saturn Girl (or three Triplicate Girls!) as a toy in my Happy Meal at age 9, but I was a weird kid. And happily, you can ask for either the teddy bear or the action figure, regardless of your gender.

And while stereotypes are a bore, marketing execs don't think so.

Thanks for posting, Michael - I don't comment a lot, but I hope you know that there's folks out there who read your blog regularly, and appreciate the content and the effort that you put into it.

--yqeoadt, lab assistant to Dr. Mayavale

Mara said...

Crossposting from my LJ...

The thing is, I see your point (or rather McDonalds' point), but I can't help thinking the logic is a bit circular. "Boys don't play with girl action figures because they don't get any girl action figures because boys don't play with girl action figures."

I guess my question is, do little boys not care about Saturn Girl and Phantom Girl and the Emerald Empress?

Michael said...

Mara - as a former little boy, no, we don't.

When I was that age, they didn't have Happy Meals. But they did have Hot Wheels and Matchbox cars, Mego Super-Heroes, and plastic army men. My cars all had smash-em-up derbies, my super-heroes (and villains) would choose sides and fight (General Ursus from Planet of the Apes, Spider-Man, and Batman vs. Superman, Penguin, and Green Arrow, for example). My sister had the Catwoman, Wonder Woman, Zira, and Supergirl figures, but I didn't touch those because they were girl toys (and they were girls).

Of course the logic is circular. But large corporations don't think about logic, they think about sales and profit margins. You can't make the girl figures in the same quantity as the boy figures, you'd end up with too many left over that the boys don't want. You can't make fewer of them, because then your cost per unit goes up.

It's much easier on a scale that big to just play to the stereotype and have girl toys for girls and boy toys for boys.

Jonathan Miller said...

Um, my friends' 3 year old boy loves the Justice League cartoon. His two favorites? Superman and Hawkgirl. He was thrilled to get a Hawkgirl action figure. He also loves the Legion cartoon and would have absolutely no problem playing with figures of any of the girl characters. Not all boys follow the "girl figures are dolls" thing, certainly not as much now as in the past.

While I think you have a point as to McD's obvious thinking, I think you (and they) aren't quite caught up with reality as far as this goes.

Lexi said...

I don't understand why they didn't just make the female Legionnaires the "girl" toy. I thought little girls loved girl action heroes. Or am I misunderstanding the popularity of the Powerpuff Girls? And I recall being very much obsessed with the Power Rangers when I was about 9.

notintheface said...

OK, so Saturn Girl, Phantom Girl, And Emerald Empress don't rate a figure.

But MANO does?

bellatrys said...

When I was nine, my collection of Star Wars figures was the envy of the neighborhood.

If there had been Gatchaman figures available in the US back then, I would have had them all too. As it was, we made do by drawing our own fanart.

Alternatively, all my little brothers have over the years hoarded sundry sorts of stuffed animals along with their toy robots.

So no, you don't know what you're talking about, you're just reflexively justifing the Status Quo, because rich white guys can do no wrong, it seems.

Michael said...

Bellatrys - I'm not sure if you're accusing me of justifying the status quo or just reposting what you wrote elsewhere, but what I wrote is my attempt at explaining what I think McDonald's was thinking.

Of course there are exceptions. Nothing's ever 100% of anything. I'm just saying from a corporate point of view, perpetuating the stereotype makes sense financially. They're not out to make a statement, they're out to make a buck. Race has nothing to do with this.

Out of your Star Wars collection of figures when you were nine, how many of them were female besides Princess Leia? And how many other girls collected Star Wars figures when you were nine? Were you the exception to the "rule"?

If they had asked me which ones to include - limited to 8 total - I'd have chosen Superman, Bouncing Boy, Timber Wolf, Brainiac 5, Saturn Girl, Tharok, Validus, and Emerald Empress. But they didn't ask me (who knows who was asked? Maybe WB recommended those 8, maybe DC did, maybe they held a focus group with a dozen boys and girls and asked them, maybe parents were included?) and they didn't ask you, so we get what we get.

thekamisama said...

I am the father of a 9 year old boy. When I showed him the listing of the toys, he named the three main female characters on the show, Emerald Empress, along with a few others, that he would've liked to have in order to get the complete cartoon Legion and Fatal Five.

So not all little boys think it is bad or yucky to play with toys featuring females from their favorite shows.