Teen cre­ates on­line pe­ti­tion over toy oven

Eighth-grader says the Easy-bake Oven isn’t just for girls; boys cook, too.

Austin American-Statesman - - TV TONIGHT - By michelle r. smith The as­so­ci­ated Press

PROV­I­DENCE, R.I. — Fouryear-old Gavyn Boscio loves to cook and asked for an Easy-Bake Oven for Christ­mas. But when his big sis­ter went to buy one, she dis­cov­ered to her dis­ap­point­ment that it comes only in girly pink and pur­ple, with girls — and only girls — on the box and in the com­mer­cials.

So the eighth-grader from Garfield, N.J., started an on­line pe­ti­tion ask­ing Paw­tucket, R.I.based Has­bro to make the toy ovens in gen­der-neu­tral col­ors and fea­ture boys on the package.

In a lit­tle more than a week, 13-year-old McKenna Pope’s pe­ti­tion had gar­nered more than 30,000 sig­na­tures.

And celebrity chef Bobby Flay, who owned an Easy-Bake Oven as a boy, is among those weigh­ing in on her side.

In a video McKenna made to ac­com­pany her pe­ti­tion on Change. org, Gavyn whips up a batch of cook­ies and tells his sis­ter he wants a di­nosaur and an EasyBake Oven for Christ­mas. When she asks him why there are no boys in the com­mer­cial for EasyBake Ovens, he ex­plains: “Be­cause only girls play with it.”

“Ob­vi­ously, the way they’re mar­ket­ing this prod­uct is in­flu­enc­ing what he thinks and the way that he acts,” McKenna said in an in­ter­view. She said her lit­tle brother would prob­a­bly be OK play­ing with a pur­ple-and­pink oven by him­self, but would be too em­bar­rassed to use it in front of his friends.

A spokesman for Has­bro did not re­turn calls for com­ment.

In a let­ter McKenna re­ceived on Mon­day, a Has­bro rep­re­sen­ta­tive told her the com­pany has fea­tured boys on the pack­ag­ing over the years and said a brother and sis­ter were fi­nal­ists for the Easy-Bake “Baker of the Year” award in 2009.

Has­bro also pointed to Flay as an ex­am­ple of a chef who traced his ca­reer to an early ex­pe­ri­ence with the EasyBake.

McKenna found the re­sponse dis­ap­point­ing.

“All they really told me is that boys play with their prod­ucts. I al­ready know boys do play with your prod­ucts, so why are you only mar­ket­ing them to girls?” she said. “I don’t want them to make a boys’ Easy-Bake Oven and girls’ Easy-Bake Oven. I want them to make an Easy-Bake Oven for kids.”

The de­bate over whether toy com­pa­nies are re­in­forc­ing gen­der stereo­types — pinks and princesses for girls, guns and gross things for boys — seems to flare ev­ery year, par­tic­u­larly at Christ­mas, and has in­volved such things as Le­gos, toy mi­cro­scopes and Bar­bie dolls. Now, it has ex­tended to an­other one of the most beloved baby boomer toys, in­tro­duced in the 1960s.

Flay, 47, said he asked for an Easy-Bake for Christ­mas when he was about 5. He re­mem­bers it as a “pu­trid green” and re­calls bak­ing cakes with his mother from mixes. (The Easy-Bake Oven back then used a light bulb as a heat­ing el­e­ment; now it op­er­ates more like a real oven.) At the time, he said, the stereo­type was that only women cooked, but a lot has changed since then.

“I can­not tell you how many young boys are my fans. And they want to grow up, and they want to cook,” the Food Net­work star said.

Jim Sil­ver, a toy ex­pert and ed­i­tor in chief of Time­to­play­mag.com, played with an EasyBake him­self as a kid and said boys still play with it, just as girls play with Hot Wheels cars. He said Has­bro is sim­ply mar­ket­ing to the au­di­ence most likely to buy the oven and there’s noth­ing wrong with that.

About seven years ago, Has­bro had a cook­ing prod­uct aimed at boys, the Queasy Bake Cook­er­a­tor, which in­cluded recipes for gross-sound­ing treats such as Dip n’ Drool Dog Bones and Mud n’ Crud Cake. “Sales failed mis­er­ably,” Sil­ver said.

Flay said he is not sur­prised it failed be­cause Has­bro was try­ing to ap­peal to boys in a stereo­typ­i­cal way. In­stead, he urged the toy­maker to think about wi­den­ing the mar­ket for the Easy-Bake.

“Why not ac­tu­ally cre­ate some­thing that ev­ery­body knows the name, but also it comes in dif­fer­ent col­ors so that boys, girls, doesn’t mat­ter, they can pick what color they want and it will make them a lit­tle more com­fort­able to buy it?” he said.

In the mean­time, he said, Gavyn’s fam­ily should buy him an EasyBake Oven any­way.

“Ab­so­lutely. If that’s what he wants, why not get it for him? I mean, who cares what color it is?” he said.

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