I grew up in the 1960s and one of my first toys as a pre-K kid was a Barbie doll. Stiff limbed, with an impossibly cinched waist, torpedo breasts, feet that were in a constant state of tippy-toe, long hair, painted on makeup and no discernible gender below the waist. I was going to say, ‘below the belly button,’ but I would be surprised if she had one. Although she and her family, including boyfriend Ken and little sister Skipper, were identifiably male and female, only girls were encouraged to play with them.
The closest boys’ doll was GI Joe. Camo-clothed and ready for action and according to Wikipedia, “The conventional marketing wisdom of the early 1960s was that boys would not play with dolls and parents would not buy their sons dolls which have been traditionally a girl’s toy; thus the word “doll” was never used by Hasbro or anyone involved in the development or marketing of G.I. Joe. “Action figure” was the only acceptable term, and has since become the generic description for any poseable doll intended for boys. “America’s movable fighting man” is a registered trademark of Hasbro, and was prominently displayed on every boxed figure package.”
I never understood the restriction against boys playing with dolls (baby dolls or Barbie dolls). How would they learn to be nurturing men, whether or not they became fathers, without practice? Why would we want to shame the empathy and care out of our sons? My son had all kinds of toys, those marketed for girls and boys. At 32 and about to become a father, I know he is open to his child playing with a wide variety of them too.
Enter a new series of dolls, manufactured by Mattel with the tag line “A doll line designed to keep labels out and invite everyone in.” The consumers they want to appeal to are those whose gender identity doesn’t fall in any cookie-cutter way. Trans kiddos, non-binary kiddos, gender-fluid kiddos, and cis-gender kiddos; in other words, it is now an equal opportunity toy. The appearance of the dolls is gender-neutral, sans makeup and with interchangeable hair lengths. Outfits are also reflective of the various styles of dress that their human counterparts might wear. Its purpose is so that every child might see, him-her-them self embodied in the doll.
Designers observed children playing and interviewed parents to get their take on the new Creatable World line. The children dove in with abandon, making up their own games with the dolls. Some of the adults fully embraced the idea, while others were disapproving and thought it politicized the playthings and even might have the effect of influencing the child’s gender preference or sexual orientation.
What it really comes down to is celebrating diversity and inclusivity, which is simply child’s play.
“A doll is a huggable, lovingly made reflection of our inner and outer spirit.” ―
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