A teenage girl in New Jersey has won a campaign to man up the Easy-Bake Oven. McKenna Pope, who launched a petition last month to get Hasbro to make a more boy-friendly version of the oven—currently available in girlie shades of pink and purple—met with the toy maker Monday at its headquarters in Rhode Island. “They showed me a prototype of a new oven. It’s black and blue and silver,” she says. “It kind of looks like an appliance you would legitimately have in your kitchen.”
The eighth grader's quest for a more manly stove started when she found her 4-year-old brother, Gavyn, trying to cook a tortilla on top of a lightbulb. Deciding the young chef needed an oven of his own, she and her mother went to Target, only to find the Easy Bake packaging geared solely toward girls.
Pope posted her petition on the site Change.org, saying she found it "quite appalling" that "boys are not featured in packaging or promotional materials.” She added, “The oven comes in gender-specific hues: purple and pink. I feel that this sends a clear message: women cook, men work.”
She collected nearly 45,000 signatures and got the attention of chefs including Bobby Flay and Manuel Trevino, who gathered fellow chefs together to create a video called Everyone Can Cook. “I can understand not wanting to cook on a pink oven,” Joshua Whigham, a chef at The Bazaar in Los Angeles, says in the video.
Pope didn’t expect such support. “I thought maybe I’d get a few hundred signatures and a generic response from Hasbro,” she says.
Hasbro confirmed in a statement that the new oven is in the works, and will be unveiled at the Toy Fair trade show in February in New York City. The toy will be available for sale in the fall of 2013. That’s when Pope's brother will get his oven. "Given the widespread interest in McKenna Pope’s story, we extended an invitation to McKenna and her family to visit Hasbro and meet with our Easy-Bake team," the company said. "During her visit, we showed her a new black and silver Easy-Bake Oven design that has been in development over the past 18 months."
Born in 1963, the Easy-Bake Oven originally looked like a kid-size conventional oven and used 100-watt incandescent light bulbs to cook cakes. After a redesign last year, the toy now heats up like a traditional oven and looks more like a microwave. Over the years, a dozen different models have been introduced, in an array of colors including teal, green, yellow, silver, and blue.
Hasbro created a “male” version of the oven about a decade ago. Called the Queasy Bake Cookerator, the packaging depicted a boy surrounded by a ghoulish glow and featured recipes like Chocolate Crud Cake Mix and Bugs ‘n’ Worms Mix.
Pope says that oven stereotyped boys. She says she asked Hasbro if it would market its new oven in a more “gender-neutral way,” and was told yes.
Chefs rally round McKenna Pope's quest.
Activists around the world are stepping up campaigns for gender-neutral toys. Last month, a major Swedish toy maker published a catalog that made a point of busting stereotypes, showing boys playing with dolls and girls toting toy guns. Other activists have started campaigns on Facebook and Change.org, calling on toy stores to display toys by theme rather than gender.
Carolyn Danckaert, an aunt in Washington, D.C., runs a site called A Mighty Girl advocating for gender-free marketing of toys. She says designating toys specifically for boys or girls creates problems that can last into adulthood. “These differences perpetuate the disparities still seen in the job market,” she says on her site, “particularly in women’s low representation in technical fields like engineering and computer science.”
Let’s just hope the Queasy Bake Cookerator doesn’t come back.