Hasbro is removing a Trolls doll from store shelves following a number of complaints about an inappropriately placed button that some people say promotes child abuse. The company announced its decision to discontinue the doll on Wednesday thanks to an online petition that received more than 300,000 signatures.
A now-viral video of the Trolls "Poppy" doll shows one button on its stomach, which is advertised on packaging and another, which led to confusion among buyers. It says clearly on the back of the box that if you press the first button on the stomach, the doll will say ten phrases and sounds. But there’s no mention of a button under the doll’s skirt placed on the “private area,” the video noted. When pressing that second button, the doll gasps and makes sounds like, “Whee!” and “Oh!” which people have complained are a disturbing sexualization of the children’s toy.
The parent who made and shared the video said they felt it necessary to show the hidden button as issues related to child abuse, grooming, and child sex trafficking receive more national attention right now. The video she made, which garnered over half a million views, sparked an online petition to pull the Poppy doll from shelves entirely.
“This toy needs to be removed from our stores,” reads the petition, which was directed at Target, Walmart, Amazon, Dollar General, and Family Dollar Stores. “What will this toy make our innocent, impressionable children think? That it’s fun when someone touches your private area? That pedophilia and child molestation are ok? It’s not ok!”
But, according to a Rolling Stone investigation, the button was not meant to actually be a button but instead a sensor that activated when the doll sat down. “This feature was designed to react when the doll was seated,” Hasbro SVP of Global Communications Julie Duffy says in a statement to Refinery29.
In response to the controversy, Hasbro had the Trolls doll removed from major retailers and said in a statement that the doll was designed to making a laughing sound, “but we recognize the placement of the sensor may be perceived as inappropriate," Duffy added. “This was not intentional and we are happy to provide consumers with a replacement Poppy doll of similar value through our Consumer Care team.” Multiple retailers also immediately pulled the doll from shelves and removed it from accompanying Trolls World Tour collection items.
While theories have transpired around the controversy, some claiming that the #SaveTheChildren hashtag attached to several posts is the same one used by QAnon and Pizzagate conspirers, the doll itself continues to cause speculation and demand removal. Children are not always learning about consent, inappropriate physical contact, and healthy ways to show affection starting from a young age — not just in relation to adults, but also in their friendships with other kids.
Still, childhood sexual abuse is a widespread problem. According to the Rape, Abuse & Incest National Network (RAINN), an anti-sexual assault organization, one in 9 girls and one in 53 boys under the age of 18 experience sexual abuse at the hands of an adult. Statistic likes these were reportedly a motivating factor in calling out Hasbro and the Trolls manufacturers for creating a doll with this specific function or sensibility.
Hasbro isn’t new to controversies around its children’s toys, though. In 2016, as Star Wars began a new era with The Force Awakens, the company was widely criticized for excluding the protagonist — a young woman named Rey — from its merchandise. While the implications are different, in both cases, the company is failing kids with either a lack of positive gender representation or by allegedly sexualizing the dolls it markets to young girls.
But Hasbro isn’t the only toy company that has — whether purposely or not — sexualized its toys. Mattel and Sports Illustrated teamed up in 2014 to put a "sexy" Barbie on the magazine’s swimsuit edition, which is typically oriented toward men, despite the dolls being sold to children. At face value, it may seem like a bit of a stretch, but there’s something both creepy and also harmful about marketing a sexualized version of a children’s toy to adult men. The company has since made efforts to create better representation in their children's toys, even introducing a gender neutral doll in 2019.
While the petition against Hasbro seeks to end any possibility of sexualization in the children's doll, the company says they are taking swift action to mitigate the inappropriate sensor placement. This is only one step in a larger conversation around the sexualization of children's toys, though, and how companies must remain vigilant in their representation of products.