I grew up in southeast Idaho, surrounded by the best russet-growing soil on God’s green earth. I have frolicked merrily through the park on Spud Days (like Lentil Fest for potatoes). When I was 9 years old, I graced the cover of “Potato Grower Magazine,” the top (yes, there’s more than one) international (distribution in Canada counts) tuber-themed publication.
In my 40 years, I’m pretty sure I never met a potato I didn’t like. So imagine my surprise last week when half my social media circle started throwing shade at one of the most endearing symbols of my favorite starch, the beloved Mr. Potato Head.
Or, should I say, the children’s toy formerly known as Mr. Potato Head. Last week Hasbro announced it was dropping “Mr.” from the brand name, opting instead to market its selection of plastic, personified tater tots as simply Potato Heads.
This caused an uproar like we haven’t seen since Starbucks first poured hot beverages into solid red cups at Christmastime. Hasbro’s move toward inclusivity was labeled as cancel culture and a left-wing attack on the male gender.
Admittedly I missed the last few bra burnings, but as a card-carrying feminist let me assure you this was not an attempt to be provocative. This was a brand of toys realizing they sell boy potatoes and girl potatoes, pirate potatoes and superhero potatoes — heck, they even have a potato dressed as a spork. Why wouldn’t they drop the “Mr.” title on the overall brand when Mr. Potato Head is just one of the many, many spuds in their giant burlap sack?
It makes perfect sense to my children. They’ve always lived in a world where at least some of the previously gendered lexicon has been corrected. They know police officer instead of policeman, soldier instead of Army man. They think a milkman is a man made out of milk. They don’t understand why people call their father a male nurse when he takes care of everyone who comes to the hospital, not just patients who are boys.
I’ll never forget the day my son, then 7, corrected me when we were driving down Main Street in Moscow and encountered a fire truck out for a cruise.
“I hope he’s not headed to our house,” I joked.
“Or she,” my son responded. “He or she. The firefighter driving could be a girl.”
I’d never been so happy to be corrected. In truth, though, my little dude wasn’t being a social justice warrior; he was simply stating a fact. He personally knew exactly one firefighter, our good friend Mattie who happens to be a girl. In his world a female firefighter is the norm, not the anomaly.
That world is still imperfect, but kids today have the good sense my generation lacked. The term “girl gamer” used to make me proud because it acknowledged that girls can like video games, too. Today the term makes my daughter cringe; she recognizes that of course girls like video games so why on earth is there an assumed maleness in the term “gamer” to begin with?
Kids today ask the important questions, like why are female collegiate athletes called the Lady Vandals or the Lady Cougs but the male athletes are never called the Lord Vandals or the Seigneur Cougs? Why is there a WNBA but the NBA isn’t called the Men’s National Basketball Association? Why is women’s golf called the LPGA but men’s golf isn’t the Gentlemen’s Professional Golf Association?
I can’t give a good reason why. There isn’t a good reason. Just like there isn’t a good reason we should perpetuate the message that everyone — Mrs. Potato Head included — lives in a man’s world.
Mr. Potato Head is alive and well. He still has his name, his bowler hat, and his sweet, sweet mustache. Hasbro didn’t change him in the least. Hasbro just finally recognized that assigning the title “Mr.” to the entire brand was narrow, exclusive, and, quite frankly, silly. So they fixed it.
It’s high time the rest of us examined our own spud cellars and updated all the unnecessarily gendered terms and phrases we’ve let slide for far too long.
Jade Stellmon set sail for a three-hour tour on the Palouse in 2001. She is now happily marooned in Moscow with her spouse and five children.