Easy Bake Oven For Boys: A Black Dad Explains Why His Son Won’t Be Getting One

By JAMAL FREDRICK

Over the past year, I’ve had an intense internal struggle over the rise of a parenting philosophy that makes me have almost knee-jerk reactions—that makes me respond in ways contrary to how I perceive myself. Progressive, liberal, forward-thinking, open-minded, not bound by societal constructs of race, class, sex and gender roles—that is who I believe I am. At least I used to. Until conversation on Twitter and blogs started advancing this concept of raising children—boys, specifically—in a gender-neutral fashion. This idea came to a head just before Christmas, when an online petition convinced the toy company, Hasbro, to create the perennial girl toy, the Easy Bake Oven, for boys.

First thought: “This is ridiculous.”

Call it narrow minded, but I take great offense when I continuously see things promoted to effeminize our boys. We’re fast becoming the generation where boys are being raised in a non-overtly masculine way—where they’re being taught to be less aggressive, less competitive, more restrained, gentler. And now, we want them in the house baking cookies. Word?

It doesn’t help that all of the comments that I’ve seen in support of this parenting philosophy were from women, and the only women I’ve seen participating in this are single mothers. I read the articles/blogs/comments and instantly imagined boys being raised solely by women, dolled up in aprons, playing with Easy Bake Ovens. I’d be lying to your face if I told you that image didn’t bother me. I’m sure I’m not alone; I have yet to see a man, whether online or in real life, support this style of parenting, much less initiate it in their own homes.

I look at toys almost as the primary source of a child’s interests and I do draw a distinction between what a child plays with and what a child does within the household. Let my son play outside, get dirty, fight, climb trees, burn up bugs and then come inside and help mommy and daddy with dinner. I want it to be duly noted that I don’t hold to gender stereotypes. My wife and I are a team: we work together and take turns doing everything within the house. But as contradictory as it sounds, I do look at certain things being “boy things” and some as “girl things.” I don’t believe in this concept of gender-neutral child rearing; to me it’s an effort to keep kids from going in either direction. And you know what? I need my boy to grow up to be a man. When I tell him to “be a man,” I want that to mean something.

What I prefer with my own children is to erase the gender stereotypes and strict roles and embrace more of a “gender inclusive” mode of rearing. This means that neither my daughter nor my son will have limits on what they can do, but there will be a direction. My daughter seems like a daddy’s girl at times, but she wants to be like her mommy, as she should. She wants to try to help daddy out with his tools when he’s working around the house, but she loves dressing up, make up, dolls and tea parties. I’m sure my son will dig playing kitchen and may fancy a tea party or two, but I’m sure he’ll love playing with cars, picking up frogs and watching a ball game with his dad. There’s nothing wrong with this.

My direction will also come from my children. As we raise them and have an environment where they do everything, their interests will develop and they will inform us about what they really like. I want my children to feel safe in expressing themselves and never have any guilt or shame in being who they are, and I realize that it won’t be what toys they plays with or activities they do that determines their character. Nature (who they are) and their environment (how my wife and I raise them) will shape their character. But I have no interest in forcing them into so-called “gender-neutral” roles because a bunch of people on Twitter internet claim it’s progressive.

Mind you, I get the whole Easy Bake Oven for boys thing: the fact is that in the restaurant industry, the majority of the chefs and restaurateurs are male. And look at me, the hypocrite. I love cooking. Top Chef is DVR’d and watched religiously. I have seen the video of the chefs in support of the toy oven for boys and I am very proud of the young lady who took it upon herself to fight an age-old social construct. Do I understand the perspective and purpose? Yes. But, will I be buying one for my son for his birthday? Nope. Not at all.

Originally from San Francisco, Jamal Frederick lives in the Bay Area with his wife and two children. Follow him on Twitter @jamalfrederick, and check out his site-in-progress, www.killthecartoon.com.

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Denene Millner

Mom. NY Times bestselling author. Pop culture ninja. Unapologetic lover of shoes, bacon and babies. Nice with the verbs. Founder of the top black parenting website, MyBrownBaby.

35 Comments

  1. Kia Morgan Smith

    Let me be the FIRST to step up and say AMEN! Right here on these pages on My Brown Baby I was ridiculed because I said I didn’t want my son to wear Pink Nail Polish and I was called all types of names! Jamal thank you for writing this and I am with you 100%! I am tired of our society trying to make boys more neutral and less masculine! You summed it all up in this post and I don’t need to say anything other than THANK YOU for this! WELL SAID! BOOM!

  2. Can I be honest? When I saw you wrote that all of the positive comments you saw were from single mothers, I just had to stop reading. I mean, reading that really closed my mind to anything else you were going to say. I want to read this article and I want to understand your perspective, but when I see that it just feels like a single mom bash coming on. This is from a happily married mother of a son who doesn’t necessarily see a problem with a gender neutral EBO.

    • Yeah, I saw that, too. As a divorced mom, it made me wince. I read the entire article but to suggest that it appears two-parent, male-female headed household are more sound or equipped at raising gender inclusive children is not very, ahem, inclusive.

      • My parenthood status is two parent male-female. True, but it was never suggested or asserted that a two parent male-female household was more sound or equipped at raising a child in any way.

        • I dunno, Mr. Frederick, this excerpt seems to suggest such a thing:
          “It doesn’t help that all of the comments that I’ve seen in support of this parenting philosophy were from women, and the only women I’ve seen participating in this are single mothers. I read the articles/blogs/comments and instantly imagined boys being raised solely by women, dolled up in aprons, playing with Easy Bake Ovens.”

          I understand the concerns that you bring to the fore (although I respectfully disagree with some of your ideas and embrace a few). However to allow certain things that you’ve read in blogs to convince you to connect single mothers with such extreme images of child-rearing gone wrong is disturbing. Not so much that your imagination is offensive (we all have vivid ideas evoked by fears) but that you chose to publish this correlation in a forum that engages a variety of women (some of them who are hard-working, single moms raising sons). It would have been interesting to learn what other fathers thought about raising boys who are “less agressive” or “more restrained” but I understand that this commentary is more about your insight on child-rearing in your home. I can assure you, however, that there are many single moms who support football-playing, dirt-digging experiences for their boys while steering their daughters toward activities traditionally associated with womanhood. I am simply not an advocate for associating one of society’s most marginalized groups — single mothers — with the intentional feminizing of their sons. I’m not going to tell you how your commentary should have been written but without taking into consideration OTHER groups: heterosexual single/divorced fathers; same sex couples; single homosexual/lesbian parents; economically disadvantaged, etc. I just don’t think it was fair to anchor single moms to the break down or erasure of masculinity in a boy’s life. Interesting read, nevertheless.

          • I never tried to, nor would I ever want to, demonize, blame or ‘anchor single mothers to the break down or erasure of masculinity.’ Not once is that in there. The only reason I said “women/single mothers” was to cite where I first heard of the term ‘gender neutral’ and gender neutral in relation to boys. The first time I heard about the concept of gender neutral was from a woman on some blog and the first time I heard of someone actually raising a boy in a gender neutral fashion was from single mothers discussing it online. That’s all it was, the source from which this information was introduced to me.

  3. >>>>We’re fast becoming the generation where boys are being raised in a non-overtly masculine way—where they’re being taught to be less aggressive, less competitive, more restrained, gentler. And now, we want them in the house baking cookies. Word?<<<>>>>When I tell him to “be a man,” I want that to mean something.<<<<

    Yeah, when we teach our son to be a man, it means something. It means to be responsible, to have convictions, to know yourself, to contribute positively to your world, to take care of yourself and your family, to have integrity. None of which requires aggression, competition or being unrestrained. We play in the dirt with both our kids and cook and clean with both our kids.

  4. This article made me really uncomfortable. Like one commenter said above, the “single mother” line made me want to stop reading but I continued because I try to give opposing views a chance. There is nothing inherently gendered about baking cookies, aggression, playing in dirt and most, if not all, of the other things you named. I’m as prissy as they come but I dug in dirt and climb a tree or two in my day. I’ve seen a little boy play with dolls in one moment and roll around in grass and play with hot wheels the second. These things are gendered because we say they are. Toys and playtime activities don’t determine one’s gender expression.

    • Ashleigh and Sapphire, In no way am I trying to bash single mothers, I would do nothing of the sort. Never. Ever. Me saying that I only heard about this from women or single mothers is just citing where I first heard about this. In online blogs and on twitter I saw this topic a lot and it was always from a woman and the only comments I saw in full support of this were from women. That’s not a bash, just stating the source my observations and sources often play a role in our attitudes towards a topic, perceptions and at the least our initial reactions.

      I tried to draw a distinction between neutral and gender inclusive because, like you, my daughter is prissy and does dress up, but she also plays basketball, wrestles me, gets dirty etc. I agree that toys/colors etc aren’t biologically gendered, but more so social constructs and I do state that regardless of those constructs, toy etc won’t determine their character.

  5. Easy Bake ovens are a waste of money anyway. Why not get your son and daughter together and bake cookies in a REAL oven? :) Sounds like a great family activity. No rules, no roles, just family time and cookies! ;)

  6. Uuuuh, dad I feel you on rebelling against gender-neutral rearing or, more plainly, the defanging of boys. But dude, if ya son wants an easy-bake oven (as most males are chefs), get him one. Boys gotta know their way around a kitchen… and if they are straight and want a woman ain’t nothing more cool, smart, creative and aggressive than a man that can attack the pots and pans.

  7. I totally understand and agree with this. I think the image of the easy bake oven is feminine. However, if the makers of the oven change the image to be a more “Hot Wheels” like image that could work. I have been interested in cars all my life, but Hot Wheels were way to boyish for me. So I never asked for one. But, if they made Hot Wheels appeal to me as a female, I would have wanted one. And maybe I would know more about the details of cars. Taking this into account, perhaps the oven can be a grill for boys and not necessarily the standard easy bake oven. I would love to see my nephews with a grill version of the easy bake. Especially so they can learn more about cooking and explore cooking as an optional hobby or interest.

  8. Jamal—it’s a shame. You probably think all things tough is the way to raise men thus we have jails filled with black men that lack compassion but have mastered the “tough” crap. Wally Amos became superbly wealthy baking cookies. Recall Famous Amos cookies. Get yourself together brother.!!

    • Derek, what insightful points you make! And Famous Amos cookies, delish!

    • So, me saying I want my boy to have certain level of masculinity means, to you, that I want him to be some uber-jock, not sensitive, compassionless tough guy and with some unevolved way of thinking that perpetuates all that ails and harms our black men. Let’s not assume or project a concept that’s not there. I do not agree with nor do I promote in this article the uber-tough guy imagine. The EBO isn’t even the issue, but a point from which to discuss a larger topic, a broader concept. I wish all the points, subtle and apparent, could have been fully absorbed, but that would take, I don’t know, actually reading it…

      • Denene@MyBrownBaby

        ^^This right here.^^ I couldn’t agree with you more, Jamal, and I need you to know that despite the attacks here, you and I, as parents, are on the same page. Maybe not the same paragraph, but the same page for sure. The stereotypes that accompany what people consider “masculine” are astounding. I wish I had more time to dive into some of these comments, but I’m on deadline. Another day, though. For sure. Just wanted to let you know that I get it and appreciate the perspective.

        • But doesn’t he have his own stereotypes about what’s considered “masculine” that are just as bad? This line: “When I tell him to “be a man,” I want that to mean something.” What do you want it to mean, Jamal? That he’s too tough to be a baker? I don’t know. I was just really confused by it all, and am equally confused by your reply here, Denene.

          • If I tell my son to ‘be a man’ it doesn’t mean don’t cook. I cook. The issue isn’t with the EBO, it’s the general idea of gender neutral child rearing, which I don’t agree with. I do feel boys are being told to be these more calm subdued boys, which I have issue with.

          • Denene@MyBrownBaby

            I don’t know why my reply would confuse you, Amy. I made it quite clear: I agree with Jamal and not with the notion that “masculine” is synonymous with insensitive, compassionless, tough to a fault and prone to be criminals. I also appreciate a man’s perspective on this issue.

  9. I understand the want – and need – to raise our boys to be men, and I’m not a gender neutral parent at all. I also appreciate the concept of being gender inclusive. But I think where you went wrong was the comment about single mothers, and your focus on the Easy Bake Oven (the pink nail polish example was much more on point.)

    This is what raised my eyebrows: “Call it narrow minded, but I take great offense when I continuously see things promoted to effeminize our boys. We’re fast becoming the generation where boys are being raised in a non-overtly masculine way—where they’re being taught to be less aggressive, less competitive, more restrained, gentler. And now, we want them in the house baking cookies. Word?”

    You say that you are all about being gender inclusive, but this statement right here makes it seem like there is something inherently feminine about baking cookies, and that is offensive to women. I teach my son that if he wants something, he should know how to get it. If he likes eating cookies, then he should know how to bake them. Baking cookies – unlike pink nail polish – does not say anything about the gender of the person doing it. It says you want some cookies.

    And If you feel that way about cookies, what about other things? My kids (a boy and a girl) had a kitchen play set when they were younger. Why? Because mostly my son liked to pretend cook. Is that as offensive to you as the EBO?

    I understand your concern that only women are raising this concern and want the EBO, but perhaps that’s because we are tired of men saying things like cooking and cleaning – or little boys acting like they are cooking and cleaning – are inherently feminine things.

    • Thank you for articulating this so well! I think this is the exact reason this article bugged me so much. Boys shouldn’t have a non-girly EBO bc…baking is woman’s work?

    • I want to thank you and say how much I appreciate that response. I see your point. I main issue was that I’ve been hearing so much about this gender neutral idea and the way I’ve seen it presented focused most of its attention on the ideas of sensitivity, gentleness and almost against things looked at as a masculine. I support the in tune with emotions/sensitivity/compassion part, but the non-masculine concept is what I found issue with. I’ve seen these ideals come up a lot. The EBO thing was something small that brought all of these ideas into one discussion. Maybe the focused seems to be solely on the EBO, almost vilifying it, that wasn’t the intent. It’s more with the neutral part of gender neutral, the without direction part and I need my boy to grow to be a man. The discussion of the EBO makes is look as if I hold cooking as feminine, which I don’t. I do a lot of cooking and have a passion for it. With my gender inclusive concept I take the gender roles away and put activities in categories (domestic, sport, art/creative, fixing things etc) and want both my children to be well versed in everything. It all boils down to them being able to fully take care of themselves whether it’s cooking, cutting grass, fixing the light, sports etc. I hope this clarifies my perspective and intent a bit…

      • Thanks for the clarification, and also for being so brave to put the issue out there in the first place.

      • You say you need your boy to grow to be a man. Which makes it all about you, not him. That’s where I part ways with your parenting philosophy. In a big way. My very first question is, “and how does your son feel about that?” Are you leaving him space to develop his own masculinity, or are you imposing a role upon him that may or may not fit?

        I must seriously suggest that you’ve confused your stereotypes about gender-neutral parenting with the actual practice. And as I just suggested in another comment, that may be because parents who practice it can tell that you’re not open to hearing about the hows and whys.

        I do not practice gender-neutral parenting. I practice gender-exuberant parenting, because as others have said, this doesn’t have to be an either/or. neither/nor situation. I want my girl-identified child to go out and get muddy. I want my boy-identified child to learn to be empathetic and caring to others. I don’t want to build fences around what it means “to be a man” and “to be a woman.” I do not expect girls to emulate their mother and boys to emulate their father.

        I do expect parents of boys to teach their children not to push past other people to get what they want. To stand in line. To say please and thank you and I’m sorry. To be aware of others and their feelings. To cooperate and take turns. Because that stuff belongs to everyone regardless of gender. And yet, for all your worries, trust me, plenty of parents of boys prefer the “boys will be boys” approach. I can see it on the playground every time I go. And that’s a lot less cool than an Easy Bake Oven in a color other than pink.

        • I do believe that you’ve missed a lot in my article, a lot, a whole lot. I think you believe I’m trying to ‘force’ something on my child, I’m not. There is a paragraph discussing how I want my children to feel free expressing themselves and growing naturally and never feeling ashamed or guilty with their interests.

          The whole “parents can tell you have closed ears”. All assumption, completely false assumption, almost an insult. This is something I’ve been talking about, in-person and online, to others, male and female, for a while. The reactions I initially had made me want to really talk to people about this and hear different perspectives.

          Where you discuss not doing gender neutral parenting, it echoes much of my POV, almost agreeing. I just don’t call my child girl/boy-identified, I just call them my girl and boy because that’s my boy and my girl. I also don’t partake in this new post-gender/gender ambiguity road.

          Your last paragraph. It’s obvious that you’ve mistaken me wanting my son to have a masculine experience/environment for wanting him to be brash or insensitive or void of manners, which is a complete assumption and also reduces the concept of masculinity to one of a negative stereotype.

  10. I actually love the idea of an EBO that’s not pink. I have boys who would love the mixing and creating that goes into those (gross) goodies, but not with a pink oven. Just like they would probably get a kick out of learning to sew and cross stitch, but most of that stuff is marketed to girls, too. I’m having a hard time understanding the argument against making that kind of stuff gender neutral so that both boys and girls can enjoy them.

  11. I hear what you are saying Jamal, even if I don’t agree completely with it. I am not opposed to my son having an EBO. I think he would find it boring though as he likes our home stove and oven much better. We far too often talk about children and raising them this way or that was in terms of ‘either/or’. Children are rarely a zero sum equation. I have 10 year old twins, a girl and a boy, who on the daily make me embrace and smile about their ‘both/and’ spirits. My son is the empathetic, touch-y feel-y one, while his sister is more reserved, steely one. But they both like to cook or pretend to cook. They both love sports and getting dirty, as evidenced by them playing baseball and my daughter being the only girl on the team. ‘You hit like a girl’ took on a whole new meaning for the boys on the team: Hitting like a girl meant you could hit out of the park, lay one down the third baseline or take one in the arm for the team.

    For my husband and I, the Easy Bake Oven issue is one of skills. Baking is a very useful skill, one girls and boys should attempt. Just as building is, enter pink Legos marketed toward girls. (Side note: while I love the idea of Legos for girls, the actual toy is boring beyond belief. Too many things are semi- or completely put together which defeats the purpose of having an imaginative, build it yourself toy). We need to be about teaching all of our children- girls and boys, to be competent, bold, imaginative PEOPLE. Knowing your way around a kitchen or a car or a computer or a sewing machine or a baby nursery should not be about gender and boy or girl. These things should be about being a competent, knowledgeable, skillful PERSON. Skills don’t make you less they make you more and isn’t that what we should want for our children? More not less?

  12. Maybe I’m misremembering, but I recall playing at baking with both boys and girls in the 80s. Looking at old ads, toys were a lot less gendered then, unless you were talking about GI Joe and Barbie. Lego? Not gendered. Bikes? Much less gendered. Maybe we ought to look at why toys are so gendered NOW.

    Personally, I’ll be taking the lead from my kids when it comes to their interests – but I won’t be buying either child an Easy Bake Oven. If they want to cook, they can do it in the real kitchen with me or their papa. Since when, in this modern day, is cooking a gendered activity, anyway? My husband is a man, and he can whip up a darn good batch of cookies.

  13. i didn’t like the tone towards single mothers as well. frankly, MOST single mothers don’t have the luxury of fighting such battles. this moreso sounds like a stay-at-home battle. but the author claims to site single mothers as the basis of it all – so i will take him at his word.

    i also think the author confuses gender-neutrality. girls and boys are not raised the same way – and they probably shouldn’t be because the world we still live in teaches girls/women to not get raped (but many will anyways) vs teaching boys not to rape.

    while the author pointed out his own contractions, this post was too all over the place for me to respect it. you want to say that you don’t want your son playing with ovens because it feminizes him – say it and claim it. throwing the ‘but i cook and recognize that most chefs are male’ is like when celebs claim to be hacked after a questionable tweet.

  14. Hey Jamal,

    The fathers who support this kind of child-rearing philosophy probably aren’t speaking to you about it because they can tell your ears aren’t open. Just sayin’.

  15. I’m a single mom of a beautiful 3-year old boy. He has a kitchen set with pots and pans, which he loves. He also has trucks, trains, cars, and all of the other “boyish” stuff. He plays outside, rough-housing with his much older boy cousins. He also plays inside, quietly, on the computer or with his toys and friends. He watches super heroes and Angry Birds as well as Cinderella and Tinkerbell. He’s all “boy” with a kitchen set.

    I’m a former professional chef, and, you’re correct, most pro chefs are male and it’s a very macho culture. I doubt many of them have put too much thought into Easy Bake Ovens.

    I just try to stay chill and let the kid guide me to what he wants. If he wants an Easy Bake Oven (whichever version), so be it.

  16. I see you point about NOT buying your son a easy bake oven but the problem is you were stereotyping that issue as if you son did get one he would turn gay let me tell you this there are other things that can turn a man and owning a easy bake oven is not one of them. Lets talk about this there are way more gay men in jail & prison. my problem with toy companies is the fact they don’t produce enough toys that interest little black boys or other race boys for instance the lack of ethnic action figures there always was ethnic dolls for girls but no ethnic action figures for boys to play with. dont you think we need petition about that I think toy makers are setting the stereotypes up and having our kids think that women only cook & men only work that’s why I want my own toy company that caters children not just black & white but children of all races.

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