Mattel, the creator of Barbie, has launched the ‘Creatable World’ series, a set of gender-neutral dolls. The dolls differ from the standard, gendered Barbie and GI Joe dolls as they are blank slates: sans broad shoulders, full hips and long lashes.
The toy company has stated that toys are a reflection of culture and the gender-neutral doll line was launched to celebrate the positive impact of inclusivity. According to Mattel’s market research, children reportedly do not want their toys to be dictated by gender norms and hopes that the Creatable World series would allow all kids to express themselves freely.
To keep up with the developments in inclusion, representation and diversity, other toy companies have also sought to redevelop existing products or to create new lines which would attract the Gen-Z children. For instance, Hasbro has released a gender-swapped version of Monopoly called ‘Ms Monopoly’ where women players earn more than men.
Read the full article on The Guardian: ‘It was time’: maker of Barbie launches line of gender-neutral dolls
The gender-neutral doll series has earned some supporters from the LGBTQ community as it is perceived that there is an increased representation in toys for different children and parents who may be gender non-conforming. Here we confront difficult questions about the socialisation of children. Are children able to pick or identify their particular gender or is this something that they learn from the adults around them? Is it a question of having the toys fit the behaviour of the children or that the toys impact how children see themselves?
How important is it for children to play with toys that look like themselves? When Mattel released culturally diverse Barbies such as Hispanic dolls and a ‘Day of the Dead’ Mexican Barbie, the toy company was accused of cultural appropriation. When is it an unjustifiable appropriation of a culture or an identity, and where is it gender-affirming?
Meanwhile, Mattel has asserted that it is apolitical despite the progressiveness of its gender-neutral dolls. They have argued that their job is mainly to stimulate imaginations and provide a canvas for cultural conversation. But is this really true or are they participating in the cultural debate merely by producing such toys?
Questions for further personal evaluation:
- Mattel and Hasbro have been criticised for profiting off the culture wars. Do you agree with this criticism? In addition, is there any problem with trying to profit off the culture wars? Why or why not?
- If you are a parent, what factors would you consider in deciding what kind of toys to allow your children to play with? Why?
- ‘sans’: without
- ‘canvas’: the background, setting or scope (of an account or narrative)