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The company which produces the famous Barbie has introduced a new range of gender neutral dolls. While this may be a purely capitalistic move, it is still a move in the right direction.
Barbie came to India when I was around 6 years old. My friend, who came from a more well-off background, had multiple Barbies as well as the “necessary” accessories – clothes, furniture, doll house etc.
I wanted one too. So I pestered my mother until she saved up enough to buy me one. Looking back, I feel guilty for my blind selfishness, but at the time, it felt satisfying to finally have the latest doll.
Eventually, I grew up, lost interest in dolls, and as a young feminist, exposed to ideas about how Barbie promoted unrealistic body image standards, even became a critic. Barbie was even called out for not being truly representative of different races and ethnicities.
As the criticism from around the world got louder, and as sales fell, Mattel got smarter. It introduced Barbie in a range of body types and skin tones. However, as critics pointed out, the changes were still superficial, still adhering to “pinkification” and gender roles. Much more needed to be done to make a doll that was truly inclusive.
Now, with the introduction of the Creatable World doll, Mattel may finally have a doll that is for ALL children.
Mattel tested with 250 families across seven states in the US, including 15 children who identify as trans, gender-nonbinary or gender-fluid, and found that “Generation Alpha children chafed at labels and mandates no matter their gender identity: They didn’t want to be told whom a toy was designed for or how to play with it. They were delighted with a doll that had no name and could transform and adapt according to their whims.”
The doll, launched on September 25th in the US, can be a boy, a girl, neither, or both, reflecting the idea that gender is fluid. Its physical features are not particularly “feminine” or “masculine.”
“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.” The doll has short hair, but it comes with a wig of long hair that the kids can use on the doll if they wish too. The clothes too are gender neutral, in style and colour.
Being sold for $30 each, the doll is being sold with the slogan, “A doll line designed to keep labels out and invite everyone in.”
It will be sold online initially, before being sold in stores. Mattel recognizes the challenges to taking the doll to stores – from how to place it prominently on store shelves; to training store employees on what pronouns to use while talking about the doll and answering questions from parents; and preparing for backlash that may hurt the sales of other Mattel products.
The move has already received criticism from religious conservatives who call the doll “sinful” and transphobes who see it as “propaganda.”
It is also a decidedly capitalistic choice. Mattel is certainly not doing this out of the goodness of their hearts. Instead, the response is to the fact that in the US, the population of young people who identify as gender-nonbinary is growing. Even so, it is a move in the right direction.
The doll does not seem to be available on Indian online shopping platforms yet, but hopefully it will arrive here soon too.
Image source: YouTube
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Vijayalakshmi Harish is a book blogger and writer. To paraphrase her librarian, she is a
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