M&M’s and Jim Crow and Sexism

Hey Kiddies! Step right up! We’ve got some delicious candy covered milk chocolate here! We’ve got candy for White Kids and candy for Black Kids! Different candy for different kinds of kids! Use the correct side and step right up!

Well now wait a minute. That’s incredibly offensive.

Hey Kiddies! Step right up! We’ve got some delicious candy covered milk chocolate here! We’ve got candy for Christian Kids on the left, Jews and Mormons on the right! Grab your quarter and don’t mix it up! Different candy for different kinds of kids!

Stop right there. We don’t work like that in this country anymore. People aren’t so different that they need separate machines from which to get their candy. That is really offensive.

Boy M&M's and Girl M&M's seen in Vegas this weekend.


Could you imagine a side for White Kids and a side for Black Kids, like the drinking fountains from the 1950’s? Different sides because the two groups are so unequal, so different they cannot live as one? That is so offensive, it makes my face feel hot. Our old Jim Crow ways have shifted from black and white, to pink and blue.

Despite every marketer in the United States telling us otherwise, boys and girls actually are not that different, and do not necessitate different vending machines nor color of candy to enjoy a sweet treat. They do not need to be reminded of their gender every single time they touch a product.

If everywhere we turn, our boys and girls get the message that their sex makes them inherently different species, they will start to accept that as the norm.

If everywhere boys and girls turn, they see children categorized and boxed and labeled, they will lose the ability to see themselves outside of those parameters. They will lose the ability to see each as equals, as friends, as playmates, as fellow schoolmates, and eventually as co-workers and colleagues and partners in life.

Boys Rocks and Girls Rule, and don’t fall off your chairs in surprise….but what if that all went IN THE SAME BOX!?

If you arent’ mad, you aren’t paying attention. We need to change the way we think about our kids.


This image was spotted by our Body Image Workshop co-leader Marci Warhaft-Nadler and her family while in Las Vegas this weekend. Her sons quickly told her to get out the camera and take a picture for Pigtail Pals. Once your eyes are open to it, you cannot unsee it.
Marci’s 10yo son Logan asks, “So what happens if you eat the wrong ones?”

Great question, Logan. Great question.


  1. Every time you eat the “wrong” ones, you make a difference.

  2. course, they actually do make M&M’s just for Jews–haven’t you seen the Hannakuh mix? Truthfully, I think the M&Ms segregation is pretty benign. I am not so concerned about color division (although I love your colors are for everyone) I’m just relieved that they both said Boys/Girls Rule. I was terrified that is was going to say Boys Rule and Girls are Pretty. or something like that.

    • That’s so true Taylor! When I first saw these in the store, I also thought, Well, at least they don’t say “Boys Rock” and “Girls are quietly polite” or something like that! :o)

      But what Melissa said is the absolute truth ” Once your eyes are open to it, you cannot unsee it.”


    • On some level, the fact that you were relieved that it didn’t reference appearance speaks to how deeply the messaging runs. The fact that it’s not “as bad” as other gender separation for kids says a lot right there!


  3. Unbelievable. I’m really at a loss for words.

  4. Could you imagine if they were also different flavors? “New vanilla M&Ms–Just for girls!”

    Which reminds me of that Dr. Pepper commercial that advertises their products as only for men, and I wonder how it’s still on the air.

  5. Susie R. says:

    I have become that pain in the ass customer at McDonald’s.

    “Toy for a boy or a girl?”
    “What are they?”
    “Uh… a Hot Wheel for boys and a Baribe for Girls.”
    “My DAUGHTER will have a Hot Wheel.”

    I’m going to the mall tomorrow to see if I can find these M and Ms and feed them to the “wrong” children. Better yet, I’ll just buy some Skittles.

    • I was JUST at McDonalds this last weekend (special treat for no tantrums) and was asked that question, as usual. I asked “What are they?” Then I made the lady get them out and put them on the counter so that my daughter could choose which one she wanted. The employee wasn’t put out or offended, but she sure was surprised that I requested that.

      • Whenever I’ve gone to McDonald’s or other fast food lately, I’ve been told its the same toy regardless of boy or girl. What irritates me is they’ve done away with the “safe for under 3” toys.

      • I have this conversation everytime I go in.

        cashier: boy or girl toy
        me: star wars toy.
        cashier: so boy toy?
        me: no, the star wars toy?
        cashier: Right, the boy toy.
        me: No, the star wars toy.
        cashier: looking really confused, “that’s the boy toy”.
        me: I refuse to label the toys by gender. Children’ can play with either.

        I actually have written into McDonalds about this and they *claim* that they train their clerks not to ask “Boy or girl” but to use the name of the specific toy. yeah right. It has never happened to me.

  6. I agree with Taylor. It could be worse, certainly.
    But I also agree with you that it’s unneccessary & part of a larger problem. When I was a kid, I was just happy to get M&M’s!
    Finally, agree with Kelsey that I’m going to eat the “wrong” ones!
    My daughter’s only 2 & can’t read yet (I think). I’d be curious which ones she’d choose. … I’ll report back if I try it!

  7. A friend of mine said that sometimes she felt as if she was walking around with a giant vagina on her forehead. She said that every time she dealt with anyone they were dealing with her vagina and not her. That’s what this is about. Making us a bunch of walking vaginae and penises.

  8. I was out at Target last week buying some new sand toys for my kids and was dismayed that this year they’ve gone gender-specific pink and blue for the size bucket I needed. I am NOT buying two sets of sand toys just because I have one boy and one girl. I’m not cluttering up my trunk with duplicates. The sand toys are for BOTH of them and they can play and share together. End. of. Story.

    Normally, I would just go somewhere else, but I didn’t have the time. So I bought the blue because my daughter wouldn’t care but my son would. But seriously, why can’t these be primary red, green, and yellow like they were last year? Why do we need to gender-ify SAND TOYS?!

    Another reason to save and re-use pint sized yogurt containers, I guess.

    • Julie –
      I save our coffee cans, yogurt cups, etc during the winter for that very purpose. You can also head to the Dollar Store and purchase kitchen utensils for sand toys.
      I refuse to buy into the gender segregation, as I also have a boy and girl, and will not buy things twice.

    • Aw! It’s sort of sad that your son would mind. I get it, and it’s not his fault. But it does make me sad that it would make him uncomfortable to play with a pink bucket.

      • Yes, this came about because of school, sadly. He came home one day asking me if he were half-boy/half-girl. It’s what the kids at school told him because he “likes pink and purple.” We had a discussion about how colors are for everyone, etc, which he seemed to agree with but still doesn’t want to use specifically pink things now, either.

        Blue, by the way, is apparently okay for girls, especially if it’s dark blue. But pink and purple aren’t okay for boys…according to his first-grade classmates, anyway.

        It hurt my heart to hear this. And pissed me off at the same time that we’d even have to have this discussion in 2012.

  9. Well, clearly if you eat the wrong ones, you turn gay, just like when you wear the wrong clothes and play with the wrong toys! (Said in jest by a gay person, in case sarcasm doesn’t type well.) It’s everywhere, isn’t it? Kills me.

    • Lise: The REALLY SCARY part of what you said is that there are some idiots out there who would be concerned about just that!


      Ignorance ain’t Bliss..it’s Dangerous

  10. Jeanette Baxter says:

    To assume that I (or my daughters) cannot like pink, or should not like pink is absurd. This is 2012. We have much bigger issues to worry about, such as access to birth control and equal pay. I fully support feminism…I have only recently taught my daughter that she is a girl (do not believe in the value of this label but she is starting kindergarten in the fall). She is not allowed to play with Barbies, and we have plenty of non-gender or traditionally male toys in the house (legos, trucks, etc.). I found this to be a little bit insulting. Like I said, I AM a feminist, AND I love pink. So does my daughter. Even being raised without gender roles, she loves pink and glitter. So I let her enjoy it. Because that is what makes her happy. To believe that she has to avoid pink (or that I have to make her) is antiquated at best. And to draw a comparison to segreagation and race politics belittles the experience of those who lived through such a horrid experience. It is 2012…perhaps we should shed our stereotypes and embrace new wave feminism.

    • Jeanette –
      This isn’t about pink. This isn’t even about candy. This is about the cultural belief that boys and girls are different and should be treated differently, which is what I talked about in the post. I thought equality was the second wave of feminism.

      • Jeanette Baxter says:

        Are they being treated differently? They are both having perceived, gender specific advertising targeted for their age group shoved down their throat.

    • My little girl loves pink and glitter too, most days. But sometimes she likes red and blue… So why should she be made to feel dysfunctional for her choices?

      Yes, there are arguably more important issues, but it doesn’t make this one less real. I would like to think that we have enough mental and emotional capacity to deal with both the big and smaller issues simultaneously.

      • Jeanette Baxter says:

        I think that assuming that M&M’s and their parent company is attempting to make her feel dysfunctional for bucking mainstream culture and picking anything but pink is probably reading a little much into something that is ultimately just an advertising campaign.

        • I firmly believe that M&Ms didn’t think that deeply about what they were doing, either. But it doesn’t mean it is ok.

          This kind of separatism started with the commercial culture (selling a pink razor and a blue razor to a family, instead of just one yellow one to share) and you know what? It’s their right. They are a commercial entity, it’s their job to make money for their shareholders and this is an easy way to do it.

          But it become an issue, to me, when the separatism becomes culturally ingrained. I know my local kindy didn’t think deeply when they considered ordering only blue and pink shirts for the three year old play school program. They had no financial motivation, all the colours cost the same. But the “pink for girls, blue for boys” mantra was so ingrained they almost put a whole bunch of three year olds on opposing teams based on gender. And that is unacceptable.

          So what can we do? Speak up at kindy? Sure, done. They now have shirts of every colour, and the kids can pick what they want. But that’s not getting to the heart of the issue – we need to vote with our dollar when we shop, to discourage this gender-based delineation at the source. So don’t buy the “boy” lollies, don’t buy the “girl” lollies, buy the “kid” lollies. Make the companies think.

          (And I don’t see this as a feminist issue, actually. I see it as a personhood issue. Boys suffer just as much under the weight of gender expectation. )

          • Excellent comment! And this isn’t about feminism. At all. It is about children’s civil rights. Boys and girls – personhood.

  11. The last sentence in this paragraph was key for me:

    “Despite every marketer in the Unite States telling us otherwise, boys and girls actually are not that different, and do not necessitate different vending machines nor color of candy to enjoy a sweet treat. They do not need to be reminded of their gender every single time they touch a product.”

    Why must EVERY product our children use be gender color-coded? What is the cumulative effect of that? It’s not one candy or one t-shirt…it’s EVERYTHING, combined, and let me tell you, it’s an awfully pink world out there for girls, and there IS a message in that. Let pink be one of a rainbow of colors for girls AND boys.

  12. Really? Is it really that big of deal? I am a child from the 90s where everything was gender based. I didn’t grow up with any kind of issues or felt like I was pushed to be a girl. I am so over liberal America thinking it is all soceity’s fault that gay,lesbian transgender can’t be themselves from an early age!!!

    • Cassie –
      I do not think that anyone is saying that GBLT children cannot be themselves, at any age. That doesn’t really have anything to do with this post.

      • I’m sorry that is what I took from this article and the comments! I happen to like pink and don’t feel pushed to do so. I don’t think ” eating the wrong one is proving a point” no one really cares there are bigger fish to fry!

  13. I don’t have a problem with Pink or “girly” type things and while I believe that boys and girls are EQUAL, I also believe that they are different in a lot of ways and that’s ok. My issue is with the fact that it’s often just ASSUMED that boys will want certain things and girls will want certain things and so choices are limited. A few weeks ago, I was watching TV with my 10 year old son and saw an Ad for an easy Bake oven that was covered in pink flowers and was being played with by girls. Just girls. My son said, “What, Boys don’t cook?!”

    Sure they have “Boy” baking type toys where you can make Monster Goo or Goblin Shakes….but what if you just wanna bake?

    Sadly, the message there was that this was a toy for girls. A little silly,no?

  14. I have a hard time believing that not one gender issue has come up among people who experienced gender coding as kids. I see it every day:

    *My own daughter told that her Cars shoes were for a boy, so was she a boy? And if not, why was she wearing boy clothing? (Every other pair in our budget “for girls” was pink.) This is always done in an accusing tone, as if she is defective.

    *I was confused as a boy growing up all of the time because of my short hair, Ninja Turtles, and overalls. Both my daughter and I were called “buddy” when girls are automatically called “princess.” We’d both prefer either our names or nothing at all.

    *At the store, a mother told her daughter that she could not have a Thomas the Tank engine car like her brother because it was for boys. “Why don’t you want a girls toy?” she demanded. She rolled her eyes and huffed, “That’s what I get for letting you play hockey!” Really… Just, really?

    *My male cousins who played with dolls were made fun of as kids (not by my family, but by friends); I was made fun of for my “boy” toys too. My younger sister was often called a boy because she wore Cardinals t-shirts (the baseball team) and it made her cry.

    It’s everywhere. The problem isn’t M&Ms; like Melissa said, the problem is the cultural belief that kids should be treated differently due to gender. All kids should have access to all colors equally. You can blame parents, media, marketing, whatever; they all have a hand. But the ones like the example here tend to have the most visibility and dollars, and unfortunately hence have the most power and influence.

    Personally I DO have a problem with the candy, but that’s because of the chocolate industry using child labor and human trafficking to make their product. Human slavery and death aren’t good for children either. 🙁 I do hear that Mars is making progress to certify their chocolate as Fair Trade by 2020…

  15. I am currently reading Delusions of Gender by Cordelia Fine amazon details here. Fine, a neuroscientist, explains that it is precisely this subtle subtle drip drip of gender stereotypes that his preventing women from achieving in traditionally masculine fields. Anyone who thinks this is ‘just candy’ should take a look at Fine’s book.

    I don’t remember such pinkification from my childhood in the 70s/80s – sweets were sweets – jumpers were jumpers. Yes pink and dolls were an option – but I also built lego cars with my brother, wore jumpers and rode bikes he’d outgrown.

    • Jo –
      That books sounds very interesting. It is that drip, drip, drip you describe that I am trying to wake people up to, and put to a stop.


  1. […] is no doubt that Western children inhabit a frighteningly gender stereotyped, sexually-charged world. The world my children are growing up in feels foreign to me, unlike […]

  2. […] Pigtail Pals – If you’ve heard me rant about pink legos or be upset about people thinking my cousin’s baby was a boy because we bought her a fish themed beach ball, this is the source of my anger.  Feel free to join in the outrage against sexism, as perfectly described by the gang at Pigtail Pals. […]

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