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11/17/2010

Half-baked: A man can be a cake ace, but a boy shouldn't be a gourmand?

by Jeremy Hooper

Building on the unnecessary gender role thing that we talked about earlier this morning: Here's a perfect example of the bizarre, conflicting, needlessly differentiated messaging that we send children. This is a picture of product branded as "Girl Gourmet":

Screen Shot 2010-11-17 At 9.36.27 Am

A mini cake maker. You bake, you frost, you eat. A human impulse relegated to one certain gender. A company limiting its market, since "Kid Gourmet" (or something similar) would seemingly move more units.

Now, it's of course not surprising that a product like this would be purposely limited to the XX chromosome set. We've seen this through all of modern commercial history, with the EZ Bake Oven being the most prime example. Many boys have wanted one of those, but most were told by both Madison Avenue and societally molded parents that this desire was wrong, or at the very least idiosyncratic. We're used to that by sort of thing now, even if it's needless and annoying.

But here's why this "Girl Gourmet" product takes on a whole new level. Check out the front of its box:

Screen Shot 2010-11-17 At 9.39.57 Am

See that in the lower left corner? Yup, that's right: It's Duff Goldman from the Food Network's "Ace of Cakes." He's one of the most famous pastry sculptors in the country, so it's no surprise that he'd be the aspirational spokesface of a product about baking cakes -- he's a great choice.

But as far as we know, Duff was born male and continues to identify as the same. So what we have here is a product that, by every ounce of its design, tells boys, "HANDS OFF -- GO FIND A G.I. JOE!" but then at the exact same time tells the girls, "Play with this toy so that you can grow up to be successful like Duff Goldman." In one sense, it's admirable messaging for the girls everyone, since success in the field of pastry shouldn't come with gender qualifiers. Though a damaging message for the boys who show interest in this toy, since success in the field of imaginative play shouldn't either.

And there's not a comparable "Boy Gourmet" line, which would still put forth needless differentiation but would at least give an equal option. This is the end of this company's product line: A mini-oven that would surely serve many young Duffs -- just as long as they swipe the product from their sister's closet. A training tool not intended for the trained success story's younger self. A toy that seems progressive in one way, since its aspirational messaging doesn't come across as sexist in a way that tells girls they need a man as a role model, instead seeming to be gender-neutral in its modeled goals (the same way we hope a female chef would be equally considered for a theoretical "Boy Gourmet" line). But it's a toy that's remaining regressive in the undeniable way it tells boys to confine their childhood pastry-making to mud pies, and to find their bunts at the end of the bat rather than at the end of an oven timer.

A little thing, yes. But little things matter. Little things grow up.

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