A roaring fireplace, Momma’s oven-baked sugar cookies and Daddy’s reading holiday poems aloud to my siblings and me as “A Motown Christmas” played: I cannot imagine the holidays without intertwining those memories. My fondness for tradition, however, doesn’t prevent me from adding a few new tweaks and twists for my own family.
For example, I still write cards to friends and family as The Supremes, The Jackson 5 and Stevie Wonder harmonize in the background, but the vinyl crackle has been replaced with the a digital disc. To keep the mood from getting overly-sappy, Bob Rivers’ holiday parodies are spliced in-between the traditional tunes and it’s not uncommon to hear “Didn’t I Get This Last Year?” and “The Restroom Door Said ‘Gentlemen’” spliced in between “Silver Bells” and “Silent Night.” The yearly televised broadcasts of “Frosty The Snowman,” “A Christmas Story” and “How The Grinch Stole Christmas” are also a must, but the kids now consider the films A Perfect Holiday and This Christmas as required viewing when the tree and decorations come out of the garage to take up residence in our living room right after Thanksgiving.
But the march of time dictates that some traditions need to not only be flipped, but forgone altogether, so I am completely on-board with the idea of gender-geared toys being made neutral, such as the ever-popular Easy-Bake Oven.
Recently, the rumblings of discontent became a roar that went viral when 13-year-old McKenna Pope went to buy the toy as a Christmas present for her four-year-old brother and couldn’t find one in colors beyond purple and pink. Her petition on the website Change.org asking that more neutral upgrades be made, such as new colors and picture of boys on the packaging, drew tens of thousands of signatures and enthusiastic support from male celebrity chefs like Bobby Flay, Manuel Trevino of Top Chef and Porterhouse New York’s Manuel Lomonaco, who all agree that since children of either sex can be chefs, the change would be a timely one.
The toy-maker, Hasbro, has invited McKenna to their Pawtucket, R.I. headquarters to expound on other ideas, publicly stating that genderless ovens were attempted in the past and weren’t successful, but that had to have been years before the explosion of the foodie culture and the emergence of popular chefs like G. Garvin and Emeril Lagasse, who’ve built loyal fanbases off their cookbooks, personal charisma and signature dishes.
After meeting with McKenna, Hasbro announced this week that it will soon reveal a gender-neutral Easy-Bake Oven In black, silver and blue, with boys featured in the ads. It’s likely to be on store shelves next summer.
I’ve never understood how the practice of cooking got to be so gender-specific in the first place, since we all have to eat. And in the Jackson household, my son Darius has never been exempt from pitching in, whether he’s measuring liquids for the recipes, browning the beef or simply making breakfast for himself and his sisters before taking the bus to school.
Now that he’s practically eating enough to be two adults, what he’s learned in time and preparation teaches more about the value of food than a lecture about wasted leftovers ever could.
Darius’ efforts are perfunctory at best, but in the future, maybe he’ll develop a flair like the one his stepfather has and consider the kitchen his favorite room in the house. But even if he doesn’t become the next Guy Fieri or Patrick Neely, Darius will know which spices work, how crucial the proper measurements are and how to put a meal together without scrambling for a take-out menu just because his stomach’s growling.
When it comes to tradition, we have to evaluate the rituals to make sure they’re meaningful, not just comfortable or convenient. Toys that reinforce outdated ideals need to evolve or risk joining relics that may bring smiles and memories, but little value and usefulness in an ever-changing world.