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The Fabulous Baker Boys

5 minute read
Joel Stein

When I was a kid, it never occurred to me that my Easy-Bake Oven was girly. I do not see what gender has to do with it. I would have wanted to make cake in my own room if I’d had five penises.

So I was surprised when, a few months ago, McKenna Pope, a spunky 13-year-old girl from Garfield, N.J., just 30 miles from where I used my Easy-Bake Oven, defended her 4-year-old brother’s right to own an Easy-Bake. She got more than 44,000 signatures on her Change.org petition demanding that Hasbro make the toys in colors besides girly pink and purple. It gave me hope that in a few years another confident girl will start a Change.org petition to stop people from saying certain colors are for girls.

My son Laszlo just turned 4, and his favorite colors are indeed pink and purple. To show my support for McKenna and Hasbro, which has said it will make a gender-neutral Easy-Bake Oven but will not have it available until later this year because of, undoubtedly, the technical challenges of coloring plastic, I broke out my Easy-Bake Oven. I have one because last year a guy who read my book about trying to learn to be a man sent me a vintage baby blue Easy-Bake festooned with spikes and skull-and-bones stickers. Together, Laszlo and I would make a cake by the heat of a lightbulb and feel tough, since there is nothing girly about getting salmonella.

I bought a box of Duncan Hines mix, which had a picture on the back of a mom and daughter having a great man-hating time, laughing and joking, I assume, about how there are more women than men in college and how great it is to have boobs. This is so wrong, since today’s most famous baker is Food Network star Duff Goldman, who is a man. The second most famous baker shares a tub with two other men, one of whom is a candlestick maker, which sounds pretty manly to me. You know who else was a dude? Duncan Hines.

My lovely wife Cassandra was not supportive, mostly because she wanted to throw my Man Oven away, because she wants to throw everything away. Also, she didn’t understand why Laszlo couldn’t just make a real cake by himself in the real oven unsupervised, as 4-year-olds apparently do every day in France. Ever since reading the French child-rearing book Bringing Up Bébé, Cassandra has argued that we adopt every technique in it except the one good one, which is living in France.

But Laszlo was excited to use the Man Oven. We cracked some eggs and mixed some stuff and were having so much back-of-the-Duncan-Hines-box-level fun, I didn’t notice that Laszlo had left the kitchen to play with clay until I heard him demand I join him. We made a tow truck and a flatbed before the Man Oven beeped. “No!” Laszlo screamed when I tried to get up. “We need one more wheel!” I still don’t think Easy-Bake Ovens are girly, but I’m pretty sure that my panicking that a tiny cake will burn from the heat of a soft white lightbulb is.

When it was time to frost the cake, Laszlo said, “You do it.” Then he handed me a lump of clay and said, “People and the blood is inside, but they’re blooding and they need a Band-Aid. So can you make that?” I realized at that moment that Laszlo may have wanted to use the Easy-Bake Oven, but what he really wanted was to use it with Tim Burton.

As we ate stacks of tiny cakes spackled with frosting, I accepted that this wasn’t his thing. The idea that gender is a social construct, which was forced on me in the 1970s with Free to Be … You and Me and my mom saying things like “gender is a social construct,” just isn’t true. The week Laszlo started crawling, he pushed around a jar of mustard and made car noises. Sure, I had a sticker album, but even I loved baseball statistics, Dungeons & Dragons, laser tag and other things that girls don’t like, either for themselves or people they’ll make out with.

I called my mom to yell at her about all the false equivalencies she peddled me. She said social constructs have relaxed for girls but not for boys. “Nobody calls little girls lesbians when they do sports, but when boys take ballet or wear certain colors or use Easy-Bake Ovens, people still wonder whether they’re gay. So boys stay away from that stuff,” she said. I found this convincing. Not nearly as convincing as if Marlo Thomas had sung it in her super-hot baby-girl voice, but it still made an impression.

So I’m glad Hasbro will make boy-friendly Easy-Bake Ovens, which I assume will be in colors such as “poop,” “pee” and “poop and pee.” But I’d rather work on making everyone stop worrying about the small group of us boys who dig pink Easy-Bake Ovens. Other than the fact that we’re going to end up really fat.

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