The Not So Happy Meal

Gender plays a large role in something as simple as the kids’ meal. For a young child the greatest part of the kids’ meal is the toy that comes with it. But a problem arises; the toys seem to be for one sex only. There is the boys’ toy, which is usually an action figure or a toy that promotes active playtime, and then there is the girls’ toy, which is usually cute, pink, or geared towards a domestic task, like cooking. A child cannot chose the toy geared towards their opposite gender without losing their sense of gender. The parent would have to claim that their young girl, who really wants the Frisbee toy, is actually a boy. This focus on gender starts at birth. As Dr. Sam Sommers says, “[There is a] pressing need people have to know instantly the gender of babies they meet” (1). What I do not understand is why people need to know the gender at such an early age, besides is there that much of a difference between a newborn boy and girl? The fact is gender is specifically defined at birth into two categories, when gender is actually more of a spectrum.
My research on gender stereotyping in food advertisements have led to some interesting insight. I have gathered some background information from a study published in the American Journal of Public Health. The study involved analyzing food commercials aimed at children consumers. The results from this study showed that fifty three to eighty seven percent of the commercials shown were fast food and unhealthy products (Kelly, Bridget et al. 1). This information led to a search of fast food commercials from different restaurant chains.
Initially I looked at commercials aimed at children. The first commercial I watched was a McDonalds Happy Meal commercial that pictured two boys, playing actively and a young girl in a dress. The children proceeded to chase a magical Happy Meal through the forest. The boys and girl pictured in the commercial were traditionally dressed and all three were white. The next commercial I watched was a Burger King commercial. This commercial featured an active young white male and a subdued and calm young white female. Both of the characters remained in the same role set throughout the commercial. This commercial also featured toy advertisements for the kids’ meal. These toys were gender neutral the only difference being the boy in the commercial was playing actively with his toy, while the girl sat calmly playing with her toy at a picnic table. Most other fast food chains did not have a commercial aimed at children in particular. Neither the Burger King commercial nor the McDonalds commercial showed children in a progressive way.

McDonalds uses cartoons, toys, and other techniques to appeal to children (Koshuta 1). By doing this McDonalds is trying to create loyal customers out of children. They want the children to chose McDonalds when presented with the choice of fast food restaurants. Apparently it has worked too, because in a study ran on 3-5 year olds in lower-income families, "[C]hildren preferred the taste of hamburgers, chicken, French fries, carrots or low fat milk if they thought the products were from McDonald's, whether or not they actually were" (Koshuta 1). McDonalds targets their products toward lower-income families with their cheap prices and advertising aimed at children. Children who do not recieve quality nutrition at home should not eat McDonalds.

This shows that gender stereotyping starts at a young age and children who watch television on a frequent basis are exposed to it. This brings up an interesting thought. Most children’s films and television shows feature traditional family structures and gender roles. Children are being bombarded with these stereotypes. The shaping effect that constant exposure to the media has on these children is responsible for creating and maintaining the gender stereotypes that exist in our world.

Works Cited

Sommers, Sam Ph.D., Psychology Today. "Gender Stereotypes and the Fast Food Drive-Thru" 30 July 2008. Accessed on 15 November 2010.

Kelly, Bridget, et al. "Television Food Advertising to Children: A Global Perspective." American Journal of Public Health 100.9 (2010): 1730-1736. Academic Search Premier. EBSCO. Web. 3 Dec. 2010.

Koshuta, John. Natural News. "McDonald's Marketing Focused on Children, New Report States" 7 December 2007. Accessed on 30 November 2010.

McDonalds Happy Meal Commercial 2010 (Spread the Joy -Forest)[Video]. (2010). Retrieved 12 November 2010, from

Charles Wyson - Burger King Cats & Dogs Toys Commercial (2010)[Video]. (2010). Retrieved 12 November 2010, from