Mattel Ignites Gender Wars With New Inclusivity Dolls

Mattel is introducing Creatable World, a line of six dolls that kids can customize in true gender-fluid fashion. Each comes with enough clothing, accessories and wigs that the doll can easily be a she, a he or a they.

Predictably, the launch has already started a social-media skirmish.

Mattel is launching the new line with an #AllWelcome hashtag. It says the toys “are a reflection of culture and as the world continues to celebrate the positive impact of inclusivity, we felt it was time to create a doll line free of labels,” states Kim Culmone, Mattel’s senior vice president of fashion doll design, in its announcement. “We’re hopeful Creatable World will encourage people to think more broadly about how all kids can benefit from doll play.”



The launch comes amid other big changes from the El Segundo, California-based toy company.

Critics have long insisted Barbie, with her impossibly idealized body, has warped the body image of generations of women. So as the Barbie franchise weakened, Mattel fought back, introducing Shero and Inspiring Women dolls, like astronaut Sally Ride and artist Frida Kahlo. The company also expanded its career dolls to include dozens of role models, with jobs like marine biologist, judge and vet. There was even a limited-edition David Bowie Barbie: “Dressed as Bowie’s fantastic sci-fi alter ego, Ziggy Stardust, in the iconic metallic ‘space suit,’” according to a product description.

Those changes, along with global investments and an expanding digital presence for the 60-year-old Barbie, are paying off. In its most recent quarter, the company says gross sales from the Barbie franchise are up 13% in the most recent quarter, on a constant currency basis.

Reactions to the $30 Creatable Worlds collection include plenty of huzzahs, including parents and educators – not to mention many people who felt squeezed out of Toyland’s traditional “dolls are for girls” marketing strategies.

But almost as fast as Perez Hilton could tweet, “Have Trumpers started a boycott yet?” #boycottmattel reactions started appearing, too.

“OMG! This can’t be real! You are stealing kids’ childhood pushing down this genderless/ gender fluid non-sense!” says one.  “Goodbye @Mattel,” says another. “I’m the parent, I decide. You don’t introduce gender neutral to my children.”

But the launch is likely to resonate with younger parents, and is part of a much broader trend toward gender-neutral branding, reports Packaging Strategies.

Target, for example, has done away with boys and girls sections in its stores, H&M has introduced gender-neutral clothing and many beauty brands – from Cover Girl to Chanel -- have embraced more gender fluidity.

A 2017 Harris poll reports that 12% of millennials identify as transgender or gender non-conforming, as does 35% of Generation Z.

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