Thursday, February 12, 2009

Our Daily Bleg: Happy Meal Toys

Ian Ayres

Crosspost from Freakonomics:

Here’s a bleg asking what happened the last time you ordered a Happy Meal at McDonald’s. I’m particularly interested in whether you were asked a toy question and how it was framed.

Here in Connecticut, when I drive through, I’m sometimes asked whether the toy is for a boy or a girl. Sometimes they ask “Do you want a boy’s toy or a girl’s toy?” Sometimes they don’t ask any toy question (because they have a one-size-fits-all toy).

How do you feel about these questions? McDonald’s has to balance giving detailed information about toy promotions that change every few weeks against the difficulties of training and wanting to keep the line moving. But the lawyer in me also notes that several states prohibit sex discrimination at public accommodations.

So what happened the last time you ordered a Happy Meal at Mickey D’s?

I’d love to hear your narrative, but, if you can, please also answer these six questions.

  1. With regard to toy choice, which comes closest to your experience:

    1. McDonald’s didn’t ask any question about toy choice.

    2. The toy-choice question didn’t mention the child’s gender (for example, “Do you want the Digisports or the Hello Kitty toy?”).

    3. McDonald’s asked whether the Happy Meal was for a boy or a girl.

    4. McDonald’s offered the choice of a boy’s toy or a girl’s toy.

    5. Other?

  2. If asked a toy-related question, how did you respond?

  3. If not asked a toy question, was it because the employee saw or heard your child and just gave what he thought was the gender-appropriate toy?

  4. What toy were you given?

  5. Was your order placed at the counter or drive through?

  6. When and where (city and state) did the transaction take place?

I’ll report back the results.


First, what is a "bleg"?

I'm not sure that this could be described as discrimination. Especially the question, "Do you want a boy's toy or a girl's toy?" This gives the customer a choice of toy that might be described as traditionally for boys or girls, but does not imply that a one could not select the boys toy for a girl or vice versa. If the restaurant refused a specific toy to a customer based on gender it would be more obviously discrimination, but simply suggesting a gender appropriate toy, based on cultural expectations, seems less discriminatory. For example, most clothing stores have a men's and women's section containing clothes that are usually worn by those respective genders, but only if the store refused to sell a woman's shoe because the customer was a man would it constitute discrimination. The restaurant asking if the meal is for a girl or boy might be more inappropriate in that it does not suggest that a customer has a choice. Also, if the worker gave a child a gender specific toy based on seeing the child it still doesn't seem discriminatory unless a request for the alternative toy is refused. I may be totally off base with this, but it was my first reaction to the post.

It has been a year or two since I ordered a happy meal, but I used to get them pretty frequently. I would say that in the substantial majority of cases the question would be asked of which kind of happy meal we wanted (this is in the drive through where they wouldn't be able to tell without asking). I would say the question was usually asked as "is the happy meal for a boy or a girl?" but I can't say that I paid much attention to the precise phrasing, and the meaning to me is the same if they said "do you want a boy's toy or a girl's toy?" In those cases where the question was not asked, we almost always got the correct (boys) toy, but maybe 1-2 percent of the time we got a girls toy. This could be because they were the only ones left.

If we went inside McDonalds, it would be more common for them to just give us the correct toy by looking at our kids instead of asking.

If "bleg" means to ask for donations on a blog, I already did that on the Charlie Sheen thread.

"Boy or girl?" is what they ask at my drive-thru.

Agreed it's not really discrimination given that one could request the opposite toy.

Is it discrimination when the bowling alley asks whether I want men's shoes or women's shoes?

I don't recall ever having been asked which toy I want. That said, when I go to McD's (not often), I tend to go inside rather than use the drive-in, and my boys are stereotypically loud and boy-like.

I do often make sure to ask that I get two identical toys, so that I don't have to police a squabble about which toy is better.

I pass through pretty often.

I don't feel the question is discriminatory, it's just drive-through shorthand.

My 5 y.o. girl usually wants the 'boy' toy and her 6 y.o. sister usually opts for the 'girl' toy and everyone is happy.

I'm in CT, get Happy Meals every week or so.

I don't eat at McDonald's (though they're an excellent place to stop for a bathroom break when you're traveling), and I don't have kids, so I don't have personal experience with this. But they shouldn't ask if you want the girl's toy or the boy's toy; they should specify the toy and let the child choose.

Proclaiming that some things are for girls and some for boys is an underlying cause of sex discrimination. No, it's not direct discrimination (unless, of course, they refuse to give a boy's toy to a girl or vice versa), but it is one of the many clues that kids get in our society that some things are only for boys and some only for girls.

Our McD's typically asks question #3.

We were just there 2 nights ago (Wed. night), and we responded that both were for boys.

After being asked to pull forward, out of the line, to wait for our food, we were given 2 Hello Kitty toys, which I assume are the toys designated as the "girls' toys."

This happened in suburban Houston, TX.

This comment has been removed by the author.

Interesting question, given that there is scientific evidence that gender preference in toys may be genetic.

Are you an idiot or just a moron? Can you really not tell the difference between sex accomodation and sex discrimination?

Lawyers... what are you gonna do. Get a hobby.

In my experience, the McD's employee chooses a toy based on the child's apparent gender. When they couldn't see (aka drive thru) they'd ask "boy toy or girl toy?"

Normally we'd ask what the toys were and they responded as civilly as the earlier interactions predicted.

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