Breaking the gender binary—one doll at a time 

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Children who want to play with dolls no longer have to choose between Barbie or Ken. Toy company Mattel is embracing the idea of gender-neutral toys with the announcement of their new product: A gender-neutral doll.  

With the launch of the Creatable World line, the company introduces a figure that is marketed as neither a boy nor a girl, leaving the owner of the toy to decide how they want their doll to look and identify. The doll has a body with no obviously masculine or feminine features, and can be customized to have short or long hair and wear various articles of clothing; the doll can become a boy, a girl, neither or both. Promotional material for the new toy features the slogan, “A doll line designed to keep labels out and invite everyone in.” 

In addition to its gender neutral features, the advertising for the doll is not directed towards a specific gender, therefore inviting any child to play with Creatable World. After all, playing with dolls shouldn’t be an activity reserved only for girls. Storytelling and expressing one’s identity, instrinsic to playing with dolls, should be options for children of any gender. 

These products have the potential to have an incredible impact on kids who are questioning their gender identity. Every day, cisgender people are lucky enough to see people in the media who look like them, and it is certainly not hard to find dolls they feel they can relate to. But transgender or genderfluid children don’t have this privilege; this may be their first opportunity to have a toy they can identify with and customize to feel like the toy reflects who they are.  

Additionally, a gender-neutral doll isn’t only for those kids who fall outside the gender binary; it’s for any child who wants to play with a doll that looks like them. It is hard enough for children to cross the strict lines inherently drawn between boys’ and girls’ toys when those who do are often subject to teasing from peers. An explicitly gender-neutral doll opens the door for kids of all genders to play with a lifelike figure and to customize this figure to look like themselves. A doll no longer has to be a gendered toy, instead becoming a figure for children to utilize in expressing their identities through play. 

Reading through the responses to Time’s twitter thread about the doll reveal a mix of opinions from adults, with many parents expressing the fear that the doll might be confusing for children. Children may have questions about a gender-neutral doll, but it is more likely that they will simply embrace a toy that they can customize to their own self-image. Additionally, if a gender-neutral doll happens to bring up new and potentially difficult conversations about gender between parents and children, then these are conversations we should be having so children can fully explore their varying identities. We can no longer afford to ignore the spectrum of gender that exists in our society; we need more brands that embrace girls, boys and everyone in between.  

Mattel is setting a great example of the direction more companies should move towards with their toy designs. Brands must start catering to a new generation of children growing up in a more progressive world in which society is finally beginning to break away from a strict gender binary. We can no longer assume that the only choices for pronouns are “he” or “she” when 35% of people belonging to Generation Z know someone who uses gender-neutral pronouns. It’s about time more toy designers accept that not everyone neatly fits into a box of boy or girl, and children should be allowed and encouraged to explore toys of all kinds without gender limits. Mattel is promoting a future when “girls’ toys” and “boys’ toys” can become indistinguishable, a future when barriers around gender are no longer so rigid; this is a future we all should be working towards. 

Thumbnail photo courtesy of @mattel Instagram.


Kayla Simon is a campus correspondent for The Daily Campus. She can be reached via email at kayla.simon@uconn.edu.

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