Open up a child’s toy box and you’ll see a big difference between dolls coded as girls and those coded as boys. Even if they don’t have big breasts and tiny waists like Barbie, the "girls" will likely have long eyelashes, big eyes and pouty lips. Now, Mattel is changing that with a new gender-neutral doll line called Creatable World.
The doll has a gender-neutral face, a flat-chested body and short hair. Six options are available with different skin tones and hair textures. Each doll comes with a kit that includes a long-haired wig and both masculine-coded and feminine-coded clothes — tutus and camo trousers, colourful skirts and jeans. Mattel’s Creatable Worlds page reads: "Switch long hair for short hair — add a skirt, pants or both. It’s up to you!" A promotional video describes the toys as: "A doll line designed to keep labels out and invite everyone in, making play more inclusive than ever before."
According to Time, Mattel tested the doll with 250 families, including 15 children who are transgender, non-binary or gender-fluid. "There were a couple of gender-creative kids who told us that they dreaded Christmas Day because they knew whatever they got under the Christmas tree, it wasn’t made for them," Monica Dreger, head of consumer insights at Mattel, told Time. "This is the first doll that you can find under the tree and see is for them because it can be for anyone."
Time reports that Mattel’s testing found that no matter their gender identity, Generation Alpha children — those born in 2010 or later — didn’t want instructions or labels on their toys, and loved that they could transform their Creatable World dolls.
Parents, however, were another story. In videos of testing sessions watched by Time reporter Eliana Dockterman, adults often confused gender identity with sexual orientation, or didn’t understand the difference between gender-neutral and transgender. One woman complained that the doll "feels political". She said: "I don’t think my son should be playing with dolls. There’s a difference between a girl with a truck and a boy with a Barbie, and a boy with a Barbie is a no-no."
For now, Mattel is launching the doll online-only, in part to better control the messaging around it. When the doll is introduced to retail stores, Mattel will have to decide how to position it, and introduce training so store employees can learn which pronouns to use when talking about the dolls and how to address parents’ concerns.
Dreger said that parents’ confusion isn’t a bad sign. "If all the parents who saw the dolls said, 'This is what we’ve been waiting for,' we wouldn’t be doing our jobs," she told Time. "That would mean this should have already been in the market. So we’re maybe a little behind where kids are, ahead of where parents are, and that’s exactly where we need to be."