In Which I Am a Raging Feminist

I’m sorry, McDonald’s, but this is bullshit.

My husband took our daughter to a McDonald’s the other day and got her a Happy Meal.[1]

“Boy or girl?” the cashier asked.

Now, for our daughter, age five, there can only be one answer to this question: She’s a girly girly girl GIRL GIRL GIRL GIRL!!!

And don’t you ever forget it.

Our daughter has trouble wearing shorts — because they aren’t skirts. Anything that’s not a skirt or a dress simply must be for boys. Therefore it simply must be wrong for her. As in kicking and screaming and crying wrong.

The same goes for all kinds of things. Some of them have a modicum of conventional wisdom about them, while others do not. In recent weeks she’s said no, on gendered grounds, to chess, to playing drums, to being a racecar driver… and also to shirts with buttons. And to having a dog.

“Dogs are for boys,” she informed me, as if it were the most natural thing in the world. “Cats are for girls.”

We have done nothing to promote this tendency. On the contrary, we both consider ourselves feminists, and we have told her, again and again, that most things aren’t for boys or girls. They just exist, and then boys and girls can choose them, whichever way they like. We don’t condemn her for any of her choices simply on the basis of gender. We paint her nails. We let her grow her hair long. Outside of her school uniform, her play clothes are as girly as one could possibly imagine. (“School uniforms are like the girliest thing in the world!” I told her. “No they’re not!” she answered.)

“Sometimes it’s fun to be girly,” I’ve told her. And she readily agrees. But then: “It’s not fun to be a boy.”

So back to McDonald’s, where the answer to the question — “Boy or girl?” — gets you either this:


Or this:


For boys? Coding, robots, and vocabulary words. For girls? Just say these nonsense names, and worry a little more about your looks. Leave the brainy stuff for the boys. They can handle it.

My husband wasn’t having it. “Boy,” he told the cashier, knowing full well a tantrum was on the way. And it came. We’re going to make an attempt tonight to actually play with the robot toy that we got, because hope springs eternal. And then we’re going to play chess.

Say what you will about the innateness of gender, but there isn’t a good goddamn thing that’s innate about Monster High. It’s all artifice, from start to finish. So too are robots, of course, but at least robots do something. The problem is that our culture attaches various things to to gender, and then passes them along to kids who haven’t realized that these things can become choices, and that not all choices are equal, and that when one chooses often enough, a choice becomes second nature. And, finally, the line between second nature and just-plain-old-nature is for us humans always a tad bit blurred.

Is gender innate? I suspect it’s a question mal posée. Simply trying to answer it will always put you a false position: You either end up naturalizing Monster High — or arguing that the penis and the vagina are social constructs. Or some other precisely analogous nonsense. Much better questions exist, starting with a very simple one: “What does gender do?

I’m a feminist because I don’t like what gender does.


[1] Yeah, I know, junk food. I’m willing to bet that on average my daughter eats healthier than you do, so she gets a pass once in a while. And you would too, if you ate like she does.