Pokémon Toys Are for Boys: Gender as Disability

"Go Pokeball!" by Shannon / Flickr.

“Do you want the boy toy or the girl toy?” the McDonald’s employee asked over the drive-thru intercom.

“I’ll take the Pokémon toy, please,” I replied, eying my little girl bouncing in the back seat. She loved Pokémon, so when I heard that McDonald’s decided to add the franchise to their toy rotation, I was excited to bring her there and surprise her with something special.

“You want the boy toy? How old is your little boy?”

The employee’s attempt to be friendly backfired, as my daughter heard this exchange and, when the meal came, refused to play with the plastic Kyogre. She wanted nothing more than to trade it in for the miniature stuffed teddy from some franchise that I don’t recall. There was enough pink in its design to clearly indicate this was intended to be the girl toy.

As a parent, I feel like it’s my job to shield my children from the bumps and bruises of life. It’s easy to teach lessons like, “No, a bedsheet will not work as a parachute. Get off the roof.” But I can’t protect my children from damaged hopes and dreams. It was that moment, sitting in the McDonald’s drive-thru, that I realized some of my daughter’s dreams will be crushed simply because she’s female.

It’s easy to wonder if she would have an easier life if she had been born male. In episode three of The Orville, “About a Girl,” this issue is brought to light when the first officer, Bortus, hatches a girl out of the egg he’s been brooding. Bortus belongs to the Moclan race, which had been previously referred to as a single-gender species. But we learn here that female births are possible and considered birth defects, much like a cleft palate in human culture.

Screenshot from The Orville.

The arrival of Bortus’s daughter sparks intense debates between the ship’s crew about whether they have the right to interfere in a different culture. Many protest that the gender reassignment surgery is wrong, that Bortus and his partner should let the child decide whether she wants it when she’s old enough.

Bortus ends up agreeing with the crew, but his partner does not, and they bring the case before the Moclan government. The court rules in favour of the surgery, and the baby’s sex is changed to male. The purpose of this episode’s message on gender is muddled, but it portrays being female as a disability—which, as a man, is not something I think about much. However, as a father, what spoke to me most in the episode was Bortus’s unchanging love for his child; he was determined to provide a caring home for her, no matter what.

Just before the verdict is declared, Bortus says, “Whatever happens, we will love her in every way we are able.” And amid the conflict, turmoil, and pain in the eyes of Bortus when he is handed his son at the conclusion of the episode, undeniable love washes over that movement.

I realized some of my daughter’s dreams will be crushed simply because she’s female.

After my daughter’s refusal to play with a “boy’s” toy, I’m thinking about it a lot. I’m thinking about how, by societal default, the female gender is often considered insufficient, inadequate, and possibly broken. And while I can fight for women’s rights (and do), doing so feels like putting a band-aid on a mortal wound that still needs addressing. The wound is the attitudes of society, including myself, who don’t think about the battles women fight enough, who ignore them, or who are part of the problem.

Disability is defined as a condition that limits a person’s movements, senses, or activities. Neither my daughter, nor any woman I’ve met, have any of those limits as a result of their gender. Instead, it is those of us who believe, whether consciously or not, that women are less capable or better suited for certain tasks who have a condition that limits our senses. We are the ones with the disability, and it is up to us to change our perspective and open our eyes to the great strengths of the women around us. I never did trade in that Pokémon toy, because I didn’t want my daughter to throw away something she loves due to society telling her it’s only for boys. And that Kyogre has definitely found its way into the bathtub toy rotation since.

Kyle Rudge

Kyle Rudge

Admiral at Geekdom House
Kyle is an avid web developer and programmer with a strong tendency to be distracted by marathon watching various television shows. While he loved to write in several languages, most of them are based on 1's and 0's.
Kyle Rudge