Generation Alpha (born in 2010 to present) walks among us.
They've been wired into the Internet for all their lives, they'll be the most formally educated generation in history, and, if climate activism proves effective, they may avoid the ravages of climate change. And at 9 years old, the young generation already understands gender and sexuality better than any of their predecessors. Mattel knows that, and the Barbie-creators are cashing in on it. This week the toy company released the world's first line of gender-neutral dolls. As per the line's new slogan, Creatable World is "a doll line designed to keep labels out and invite everyone in." For $29.99, you can buy a generic, slim, 7-year-old child (long blond wig included).
The Creatable World doll is purportedly designed "to betray no obvious gender: the lips are not too full, the eyelashes not too long and fluttery, the jaw not too wide. There are no Barbie-like breasts or broad, Ken-like shoulders." Each doll comes with a wardrobe in mostly greens and yellows (allegedly gender-neutral colors) and includes hooded sweatshirts, sneakers, and graphic T-shirts as well as tutus, leggings, and camo pants.
Gender inclusive dolls PA
Firstly, Mattel is dangerously close to confusing gender-inclusivity with gender-neutrality. While it's completely fair to say that non-binary identity is complicated, so is society's history of constructing the false binary between strictly male and female.
"Non-binary" is a broad term, individuals who self-identify as such express their gender through diverse means, from combining elements of both masculinity and femininity or rejecting both to reify the fact that those notions are fundamentally flawed. Mattel is very pointedly seeking to market towards non-binary people who "Identif[y]as either having a gender which is in-between or beyond the two categories 'man' and 'woman, as fluctuating between 'man' and woman', or as having no gender, either permanently or some of the time," as defined by the LGBT Foundation and Scottish Trans Alliance.
But all Mattel does is equip the doll with swappable features that reinforce the false gender binary: traditionally "boy" and "girl" clothes and a long, blond wig. On their website, they advertise, "Creatable World™ gives kids a blank canvas to create their own characters. Switch long hair for short hair—add a skirt, pants or both. It's up to you! Mix and match, swap or share." While mixing male and female signifiers is part of non-binary expression, that's not the whole story; gender-neutrality isn't just about the choice between wearing "a skirt, pants or both." It's about rejecting the inherent assumptions and biases that presuppose a skirt is for women and pants are for men.
Mattel introduces gender neutral doll youtu.be
Of course, that's a tall order for a toy company. Mattel president Richard Dickson says, "I think being a company today, you have to have a combination of social justice along with commerce, and that balance can be tricky." He adds, "We're not in the business of politics, and we respect the decision any parent makes around how they raise their kids. Our job is to stimulate imaginations. Our toys are ultimately canvases for cultural conversation, but it's your conversation, not ours; your opinion, not ours."
Ideally, the doll can be used as a blank canvas of gender. As TIME noted, "The doll can be a boy, a girl, neither or both, and Mattel, which calls this the world's first gender-neutral doll, is hoping its launch...redefines who gets to play with a toy traditionally deemed taboo for half the world's kids." In fact, the toy industry has been trying to adjust to society's shift towards inclusivity. In 2015, 81% of Gen-Zers said that "gender doesn't define a person as much as it used to." In a study by the Williams Institute at UCLA, 27% of California teens identified as "gender-nonconforming." In response, the toy department at Target stores no longer have gender-specific sections. Disney no longer uses "boys" or "girls" labels on their children's costumes, and Mattel eliminated "boys" and "girls" from its toy divisions.
But while the kids of Generation Alpha are alright with gender fluidity, their parents are not. In testing the new line of gender neutral dolls, Mattel found that "many parents fumbled with the language to describe the dolls, confusing gender (how a person identifies) with sexuality (whom a person is attracted to), mixing up gender-neutral (without gender) and trans (a person who has transitioned from one gender to another) and fretting about the mere idea of a boy playing with a doll." One woman even said, "It's just too much. Can't we go back to 1970?"
Angie Smith for TIME Magazine
In reality, Mattel's latest cash grab is the company's newest attempt to revitalize its brand by diversifying Barbie's signature emaciated appearance. After all, this week marks the 60th anniversary of Barbie instilling rampant body image issues in young children. Since 2016, Mattel has tried to combat negative publicity by designing three new body types for Barbie ("tall," "petite," and "curvy") and releasing a line of culturally diverse dolls modeled after iconic women in history, such as Rosa Parks and Frida Kahlo. Monica Dreger, head of consumer insights at Mattel, claimed to find inspiration for the new line from "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." She added, "This is the first doll that you can find under the tree and see is for them because it can be for anyone."
Dreger adds, "So we're maybe a little behind where kids are, ahead of where parents are, and that's exactly where we need to be." But that doesn't make Mattel describing today's gender-nonconforming kids as "gender-creative" any less spooky. It, and the doll, screams of a marketing ploy that commodifies queerness for profit.
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Plus celebrities react to Nigerian protests.
Young people across Nigeria have been pouring into the streets for the last two weeks to protest police brutality, specifically the controversial special police force known as the Special Anti-Robbery Squad (SARS).
Tension came to a head on Tuesday when armed forces fired on protestors in Lagos, the biggest city in Nigeria, who were out past the state-mandated curfew. According to AP News, "Police also fired tear gas at one point, and smoke could be seen billowing from several areas in the city's center. Two private TV stations were forced off the air at least temporarily as their offices were burned."
Not all non-binary people prefer gender-neutral pronouns.
October 21, 2020 marks the third annual International Pronouns Day.
Created by an independent board and first observed in 2018, it's one of those small commemorative holidays that trends on Twitter in hopes of drawing attention to a pressing social issue, like International Women's Day (March 8th) or the ever so serious National Taco Day (October 4).
But Pronouns Day in particular "seeks to make respecting, sharing, and educating about personal pronouns commonplace." The organization's website further describes, "Referring to people by the pronouns they determine for themselves is basic to human dignity. Being referred to by the wrong pronouns particularly affects transgender and gender nonconforming people. Together, we can transform society to celebrate people's multiple, intersecting identities."
But in the words of nonbinary activist and Trevor Project's Head of Advocacy and Government Afairs, Sam Brenton, "Pronouns are hard." Never before have pronouns been scrutinized as closely as they are in 2019 for their power to (in)validate or accurately describe something as fluid as gender identity. In fact, it was only this year that the Merriam-Webster Dictionary expanded the definition of "they" "to refer to a single person whose gender identity is nonbinary" (thus codifying a long history in English language of using "they" to refer to a singular non-gendered entity).
‘Everyone has the responsibility to be respectful.’ — The @TrevorProject’s Sam Brinton is explaining why pronouns a… https://t.co/pMMO8KRvBR— NowThis (@NowThis)1571253180.0
But throwing an additional wrench in the works is the fact that not all non-binary people prefer gender-neutral pronouns.
Take me, for instance: Despite having female biology, I couldn't pass a lie detector test saying I'm a "woman." But my pragmatic, Puritan family is still endearingly confused by the idea of "liberal arts," let alone the notion of gender fluidity. And I'd rather share a communal language with them than do the emotional and mental labor of re-orienting their worldview for them. Plus, I have the privilege of passing as female without feeling too, too, terribly dysphoric (which non-binary people can definitely suffer from, despite not identifying as trans).
But enough about me, look at Queer Eye's beloved Jonathan Van Ness. While he's been outspoken about being genderqueer, gay, and HIV positive, he prefers he/him pronouns. "The older I get, the more I think that I'm nonbinary," Van Ness said. "I'm gender nonconforming. Like, some days I feel like a man, but then other days I feel like a woman." As he told Out magazine, he doesn't identify as a man, but he does prefer "he/him/his" pronouns. In his view, those pronouns don't detract from or contradict his non-binary identity, because gender is not about simple binaries between masculine and feminine identifiers. "Any opportunity I have to break down stereotypes of the binary, I am down for it, I'm here for it," he said. "I think that a lot of times gender is used to separate and divide. It's this social construct that I don't really feel like I fit into the way I used to."
On the other hand, last month non-binary singer Sam Smith announced that their preferred pronouns are "they/them." Smith posted to Instagram, "I've decided I am changing my pronouns to THEY/THEM ❤ after a lifetime of being at war with my gender I've decided to embrace myself for who I am, inside and out." People like Smith and Trevor Project's Sam Brenton simply feel more validated, seen, heard, and true to themselves with gender-neutral pronouns. Smith wrote, "I'm so excited and privileged to be surrounded by people that support me in this decision but I've been very nervous about announcing this because I care too much about what people think but f*ck it!"
Most importantly, as pretty much every non-binary person and activist is aware, changing cultural norms is hard. While LGBTQ+ activism is inspired and passionate and dedicated to expanding human rights to all gender identities, we all know that changing society's entire understanding of gender and pronoun usage is about slowly opening minds. As Smith wrote, "I understand there will be many mistakes and mis gendering but all I ask is you please please try. I hope you can see me like I see myself now. Thank you." Happy Pronouns Day to you/him/her/they/(f)aer/zim.