Gender neutrality: not suitable for kids

Mattel's new gender-neutral dolls pander to damaging adult concerns.

Alex Cameron


The release of gender-neutral dolls by Mattel will no more affect a child’s developing outlook in life than Chief Cherokee, GI Joe or Tiny Tears did. Mattel’s release is simply business. But the justification and comment that surround it are simply reactionary.

Mattel, the makers of Ken and Barbie, have released the ‘Creatable World’ series, a line of six, childlike dolls that have different skin tones, multiple hairstyles and a variety of clothing styles. So far, so innocuous. According to the company, the aim of the dolls is to celebrate ‘the positive impact of inclusivity’. Kim Culmone, Mattel’s senior vice-president of fashion doll design, tells us that ‘this line allows all kids to express themselves freely, which is why it resonates so strongly with them’. She followed this with the amazing intellectual leap that the dolls will ‘encourage people to think more broadly about how all kids can benefit from doll play’.

But this is more than just clever, culturally on-point ‘marketing’. The transformative claims made for these dolls simply don’t stack up. This is not about children and ‘play’ — rather, it is about the creation of a divisive, vindictive and debilitating moral climate. While the release of the dolls themselves is of little concern, the same cannot be said for the blinkered commitment of the creative commentariat to the ethos of gender-neutrality. The willingness of these elitists to defy logic, ignore conventional biological distinctions and play fast and loose with the ‘evidence’ is apparent and obnoxious.

The accompanying marketing and PR are bad enough, but the dolls’ slavish promotion by the commentariat is despicable. It speaks of an insidious and rapidly developing ideological consensus among the elite. They have marshalled the services of child experts, therapists and the LGBTQ community to justify and validate their offensive against what one commentator called ‘outsiders’.

Molly Woodstock, a gender educator, insists that, ‘Just the social and cultural validation of trans and non-binary gender identities through this doll feels really powerful’. Woodstock’s comments illustrate that while trans activists will pay lip service to the importance of child development, really they see this issue as little more than an excuse to justify social engineering.

Culmone and Woodstock’s argument that doll play to date has encouraged stereotypical or prejudicial behaviour in children, or even stunted their ability to express themselves freely, is a wildly deterministic and elitist view of how social relations develop. It is a simplistic view of the development of children based on a dangerous middle-class prejudice that people are mere empty vessels. It is a patronising and contemptible belief in ‘monkey see, monkey do’.

In the Guardian, André Wheeler strained to give the promotion of gender-neutrality some statistical depth, but admitted that ‘studies examining gender identification among young children are hard to come by…’.

Or to put it another way, they don’t exist. But, not wanting the lack of evidence to get in the way of a good, ideologically motivated story, Wheeler continues: ‘A recent report found that 27 per cent of California teens surveyed identified as gender-nonconforming to varying extents.’ This is an incredible ‘logical’ leap. Wheeler is as quick to overlook the lack of evidence as he is to merge distinct sociological categories, in this case those of young children and teens.

Laura A Jacobs, a trans- and gender-queer-identified therapist specialising in LGBTQ issues, continues the theme of ignoring important sociological categories to suit an argument. She tells Kells McPhillips at Well and Good, ‘There are a lot of youth who are exploring gender and this gives them yet another model, so to speak, to feel validated… whereas beforehand, when we just had very heteronormative Barbies and Kens, a lot of people felt they were left out of that.’ Did they? Are little children and teenagers kicking down these doors of perception? This line of ‘thought’ is a blatant intellectual fudge and a politically loaded sleight-of-hand. ‘Youth’ don’t play with dolls. Children can ‘see themselves’ in teddy bears and unicorns as much as they might in Barbie dolls. And validation comes with adulthood not from childhood.

While the contradictions inherent in the quest for gender-neutrality are glaring, the commentariat prove only too willing to push on. If anything, they complain, the dolls don’t go far enough. The founder (name withheld) of the sex-positive educational website, Shrimp Teeth, told McPhillips, ‘There’s a question of how we should visually represent these super complex topics… which raises the question: What would non-binary gender look like without just resorting to short hair, long hair, “boy clothes”, “girl clothes”.’ (Retractable genitalia anyone?)

McPhillips herself thinks that the ‘dolls still fall short of comprehensive representation’. This is the ridiculous and ever-expanding fantasy of the politics of gender-neutrality. It is subjective and therefore open to constant change – it is all in the head of the beholder. The rejection of biological distinctions in favour of ‘feeling different’ may tie these ideologues in knots, but it is unlikely to stop them. By all means, buy Creatable Worlds for your kids. They will love them as they would any other doll. But they won’t buy the crap that comes with them. And nor should we.

Alex Cameron is a designer and critic.

Picture by: YouTube.

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Genghis Kant

14th November 2019 at 10:02 am

Wasn’t Gender Neutrality last month’s middle-class fad?

Jerry Owen

13th November 2019 at 10:14 pm

‘Gender neutrality’ .. it’s not suitable for boys or girls.

Tim Hare

13th November 2019 at 8:49 pm

The message being sent to children is not one of inclusivity but that they need to be validated by others. It is clutching at straws when you need a doll to make you feel powerful about who you are. That kind of power comes from within and is based on a reasonable understanding of human nature and the value of everyone’s dignity.

Too often we see the insecurities of these minorities pleading for recognition and validation from society. If they were truly secure in their identity it would not matter what others think – particularly the manufacturers of dolls.

Validating a child’s gender, or not, whilst at the same time invalidating their own dignity and independence from the opinions of others is very confusing for young minds. I am transgender but only if you agree with me!

John B Dublin

13th November 2019 at 9:40 pm

Exactly. This nonsense started in our universities and has infected society, amplified and intensified by the echo chamber of social media. This peculiarly weird self destructive tendency has affected western societies but not Asia, where people are more conservative.

H McLean

13th November 2019 at 6:59 pm

Before long they’ll be in the bargain bin and Mattel will be staring at their quarterly report wondering how they made such a blunder.

James Knight

13th November 2019 at 6:04 pm

If children really do need dolls for “validation” something far more fundamental is wrong.

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13th November 2019 at 5:40 pm

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Dominic Straiton

13th November 2019 at 4:56 pm

How do you create an entire generation of mental patients utterly reliant on the state? It seems its really simple. A generation with the entire cannon of human knowledge in the palm of their hands are the dumbest most malleable generation since Horst Wessel and Pavlik Morosov.

Lord Anubis

13th November 2019 at 3:49 pm

Hm, When Anubis was a pup, everything was so much simpler. The only “Dolls” a Boy was permitted were a Teddy Bear (Typically stuffed with straw which made it about as yielding as a punch bag) and a Golly. Anything more than that was frowned upon on the grounds that it might result in you ending up batting for the other team.

Robin Harwood

16th November 2019 at 6:03 am

First, I should point out that having a Golly made you a raving colonialist imperialist racist. I bet you ate Robertson’s jam, as well.

Second, way back when I was a small child (about ten minutes after the Big Bang, that was) boys were allowed teddy bears and similar animals, but actual dolls were definitely out. They were for girls. (In those far off days boys and girls were the only categories.) Most of the dolls were pink, but some were dark brown, so that sort of inclusivity was already there. But none of them had tits or any sort of genitalia whatsoever. So they were also gender neutral. What’s the big deal about these new dolls?

Lord Anubis

16th November 2019 at 10:34 am

Ate the Jam, Saved to tokens, and got the enamel badge!

And yes, you are right. In the early 20th century Dolls (Proper Dolls, not Gollys or some other sort of caricature) came in all shades. My Mum always told me that her favourite Doll as a little girl was her Black one.

Ed Turnbull

20th November 2019 at 10:01 am

Ah, the teddy stuffed with straw, its brown glass eyes glinting with hungry malice in the twilight after your mother insisted it was time for lights out. Still got my old straw teddy (it looks unnervingly like the one in Norman’s bedroom in “Psycho”), but time and innumerable mites have taken their toll and he now looks rather tatty. Maybe I should do a time lapse film of his continued dissolution and sell it to Tate Modern? It couldn’t be any less artistic than most of the shite that appears in those hallowed halls.

But I digress. I actually intended to point out that was another doll that was allowed to boys (without them being thought of as light on their loafers): Action Man. I had several (for reasons which will become apparent), though I can’t ever recall having one that had the ‘eagle eyes’ or ‘gripping hands’ (bet *those* would’ve earned him a #MeToo condemnation from Sindy!) – they were later innovations that my wee brother enjoyed. There was nothing remotely sissy about Action Man – he was the archetype of manliness with his buzzcut hair and facial scar. Truly heroic. Though I’ve no doubt that today’s woke idiots would view AM as a horrific symbol of neo-colonialist, heteronormative, patriarchal white supremacy (have I omitted anything).

And AM encouraged truly manly play in boys. We put AM through fire, flood and the occasional kaiju (the family dog standing in for Gojira), and he came through it all with his stoicism undimmed. My piece-de-resistance when it came to AM was to stuff his clothing with steel wool…then run 12 volts through it. Looking back perhaps I should’ve named that particular Action Man ‘Mohammed’ (other spellings are available)… 😉

Chin chin

Gareth Edward KING

20th November 2019 at 2:49 pm

Yes, yes, very funny by ‘arf! I’m sure, but judging by your hair-raising and manly games with your Action Man (wink, wink, say no more…) (I had one too), how did you turn out? Are you saying that your childhood experiences with your ‘male dolls’ had absolutely no effect upon your burgeoning young self?

Ed Turnbull

25th November 2019 at 12:57 pm

@Gareth Edward King. How did I turn out? Well, I’ll leave that for others to judge. Suffice it to say I haven’t murdered or assaulted anyone, nor have I stolen, swindled or defrauded. I have no criminal record at all…actually scratch that – I *do* have a ‘criminal’ record: a Gary Glitter LP I acquired at some point in the 70s. 😉 The music’s shite so I suppose I should bin it, but I keep it nonetheless. My reason? Well, it amuses me to use it a trigger for woke idiots who seem incapable of distinguishing between a person’s work and their actions outwith its scope. Y’know the kind I mean: idiots who, for example, think that Kevin Spacey movies must never again be watched because of Spacey’s alleged predatory behaviour.

And as for my activities with AM having any effect on my burgeoning self. Not really. Okay, I did learn to do some really creative things with small electrical transformers (I could increase mains voltage by three orders of magnitude, but my parents were a tad miffed when I blew the fuse on the ring main…), but eventually I followed the advice of the Apostle Paul: I put away childish things.

But, alas, these days I find the ‘childish things’ want to put *me* away: the woke see me and my ilk as ‘problematic’ and would rather we were six feet under. Or, at least, in some place where our ideas, speech and votes can longer act as impediments to the march to the sunlit progressive intersectional rainbow uplands.

Marvin Jones

13th November 2019 at 2:25 pm

At 4 years of age I didn’t even know what an erection was, as I was not mentally abused by these ignorant lefty mutants, they had not evolved then. But I was becoming aware of the other type of mental abuse and just as bad. RELIGION!

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