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Mattel's Gender-Neutral Doll


Boys like boy action figures. Girls like girl dolls. At least that's the way the marketing has traditionally gone in the toy world. It's something that has been criticized, though, because some say it enforces stereotypes and limits kids' imaginations. And so this past week, the toy company Mattel launched a new line of gender-neutral dolls.


UNIDENTIFIED PERSON: (As character) A doll line designed to keep labels out and invite everyone in.

GARCIA-NAVARRO: The move has been both celebrated and condemned. Here to talk more about it is the host of the podcast Gender Reveal, Molly Woodstock. They identify as nonbinary and use the pronouns they and theirs.

Welcome to the program.

MOLLY WOODSTOCK: Thank you so much for having me.

GARCIA-NAVARRO: So what was your reaction to this announcement?

WOODSTOCK: I feel like this is both a good and mildly problematic. I'm really, really excited. It's this really wonderful opportunity for more kids to feel seen and to feel validated and to feel like their gender expressions are just as valid as boys and girls who are presenting in, like, really traditional gender roles.

GARCIA-NAVARRO: And yet I feel there's a but coming.

WOODSTOCK: I mean, I think that Mattel's - historically has perpetuated unattainable beauty ideals for men and women. And I think that, in some way, this doll does the same thing for kids who might be nonbinary or androgynous. And, again, this doll isn't explicitly nonbinary. But it seems really obvious that they are trying to make it a somewhat nonbinary doll by branding it as gender-neutral.

GARCIA-NAVARRO: This doll is marketed as gender-neutral, but it's actually more androgynous. It doesn't have genitalia, breasts, you know, eyelashes. It's - explain to me what you think it's trying to achieve.

WOODSTOCK: (Laughter) Yeah, I'm not 100% sure. I would love to know if this doll is supposed to be a child. But what this reminds me of is our cultural concept of what being non-binary looks like or what androgyny looks like. Because if you look at historical figures who have been considered nonandrogynous or considered nonbinary, a lot of them are really, really thin. They're generally white. They are sort of leaning a little bit masculine of center most of the time. And there are so many nonbinary people out there who do have breasts and who do have hips or who do have facial hair or who do have broad shoulders. And I just want to make sure that everyone knows that you can be nonbinary or you can be gender-nonconforming or any of those words and still have any type of body.

Like, when they were designing this doll, they literally made digital mashups of different celebrities' faces.

GARCIA-NAVARRO: Is that true?

WOODSTOCK: Yeah, they combined the face of Cole Sprouse and Camila Mendes.

GARCIA-NAVARRO: So not your average person walking down the street.

WOODSTOCK: Yeah (laughter). But still like - I mean, they mashed them up and created a face that no one has, right? And so I don't like the implications that in order to be nonbinary you need to have this perfectly androgynous face that was literally created in a computer.

GARCIA-NAVARRO: Molly, let me ask you how much social impact do you think this has, though? Because, obviously, legitimate criticisms of this but the very fact that a major toy company, like Mattel, is trying to explore in this way, you know, might have some significance. I'll leave it there.

WOODSTOCK: Oh, yeah. I'm so happy that they're doing this. I would just like to see more dolls be labeled as for all genders, but I think this is a huge deal in so many ways. I didn't know about the concept of being nonbinary until three or four years ago. And if I had seen this, like, 20 or 25 years ago, I think my life could have been honestly really different.

And having folks, like Mattel, take this really seriously and, like, put gender creative kids in their advertisements and say this is real and these kids are just as worthy of validation and representation as anyone else is so powerful. I really can't overstate how powerful that is to me.

GARCIA-NAVARRO: That's Molly Woodstock of the podcast "Gender Reveal."

Thank you very much.

WOODSTOCK: Thank you so much. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.