How toys became gendered—and why it'll take more than a gender-neutral doll to change how boys perceive femininity

phys.org | 11/18/2019 | Staff
samtetleysamtetley (Posted by) Level 3
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Parents who want to raise their children in a gender-nonconforming way have a new stocking stuffer this year: the gender-neutral doll.

Announced in September, Mattel's new line of gender-neutral humanoid dolls don't clearly identify as either a boy or a girl. The dolls come with a variety of wardrobe options and can be dressed in varying lengths of hair and clothing styles.

List - Way - Gender

But can a doll—or the growing list of other gender-neutral toys—really change the way we think about gender?

Mattel says it's responding to research that shows "kids don't want their toys dictated by gender norms." Given the results of a recent study reporting that 24% of U.S. adolescents have a nontraditional sexual orientation or gender identity, such as bisexual or nonbinary, the decision makes business sense.

Psychologist - Gender - Socialization - Sense - Gender

As a developmental psychologist who researches gender and sexual socialization, I can tell you that it also makes scientific sense. Gender is an identity and is not based on someone's biological sex. That's why I believe it's great news that some dolls will better reflect how children see themselves.

Unfortunately, a doll alone is not going to overturn decades of socialization that have led us to believe that boys wear blue, have short hair and play with trucks; whereas girls like pink, grow their hair long and play with dolls. More to the point, it's not going to change how boys are taught that masculinity is good and femininity is something less—a view that my research shows is associated with sexual violence.

Kinds - Children - Tend - Gender - Binary

The kinds of toys American children play with tend to adhere to a clear gender binary.

Toys marketed to boys tend to be more aggressive and involve action and excitement. Girl toys, on the other hand, are usually pink and passive, emphasizing beauty and nurturing.

It wasn't always like this.

Around the turn of the 20th century, toys were...
(Excerpt) Read more at: phys.org
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