The Problem With Mattel’s Gender-Neutral Dolls
By conforming to a stereotype of what it means to be androgynous, Mattel’s dolls do more harm than good
Recently, Time magazine broke the “news” that Mattel will be releasing the “world’s first gender-neutral doll.” The article, which is admittedly quite well-written and well-reported for what amounts to a full-page toy advertisement, describes the features of the new dolls this way:
“Carefully manicured features betray no obvious gender: the lips are not too full, the eyelashes not too long and fluttery, the jaw not too wide. There are no Barbie-like breasts or broad, Ken-like shoulders. Each doll in the Creatable World series looks like a slender 7-year-old with short hair, but each comes with a wig of long, lustrous locks and a wardrobe befitting any fashion-conscious kid: hoodies, sneakers, graphic T-shirts in soothing greens and yellows, along with tutus and camo pants.”
I saw a couple of really well-intentioned, informed cisgender allies sharing this announcement excitedly this week. Even a few trans people said they felt validated by it. And I can kind of see why.
The world of toys, after all, is notoriously gendered and binary. Girls get soft, babylike objects to feed and care for, while boys get hard metal cars and rugged superheroes to smash together and break. And the toy world has actually gotten more gendered over time — things like Legos, which were once marketed to both boys and girls alike (in a very egalitarian way) are now divided into distinctly blue-and-pink categories.
Even if it is a craven, trendy cash-grab, it does reflect how far society has come in terms of trans and nonbinary acceptance in just a few short years.
In 2015, when Target announced they would stop separating their toy sections by gender, they were met with a conservative firestorm of outrage and mockery. Never mind the fact that now, years later, their stores still look pretty traditionally gendered, in terms of how toy types are divided up. You can take the gender label off of Hot Wheels and Shopkins, after all, but that doesn’t undo the fact that the two…