Netizens are in a heated argument over a recent ad campaign from Mattel, which featured kids playing with a Barbie doll. Thing is, it’s not just girls on the video; there’s a young boy there too. Many expressed disapproval of the ad—but not for the reason you’re thinking.
The company recently introduced their newest fashion line Moschino. In the ad that came with the launch, kids were admiring the myriad accessories of the dolls they were playing with. The video quickly went viral as it broke the convention for featuring a boy in an ad full of Barbie dolls. Christian Siriano (pictured above), a member of Fashion Designers of America, was delighted with the successful outcome. However, some Twitter users were intrigued with the young boy’s appearance in the ad, saying that it imposes something about gay men.
But the makers of the controversial clip are more bothered about people’s misinterpretations. The dolls and ad campaign were intended to break the gender boundaries, and it has nothing to do with gender preferences. After all, playtime is all about the kids playing with their imaginations—and not toying with their identity. To play with Barbie dolls doesn’t necessarily make little boys gay nor does playing with G.I. Joe make them straight.
The issue about classifying toys according to gender was already in the news, even before the Mattel ad controversy surfaced. Toys for children in America have had gender labels for the last 50 years. Because of the modern day’s intimidating pink-blue dichotomy, action figures have always been separated from the dolls. It wasn’t like this at first, though, because in the 1970s, almost half of the toys produced were gender-neutral.
But according Prof. Judith Elaine Blakemore of Purdue University in Indiana, there’s more to the issue than just the stereotypical division of the toys based on gender. After her team did an in-depth study on over 100 random toys, they found out that boys’ toys were linked to competitiveness, violence, excitement, and danger, whereas girls’ toys were linked to being physically attractive, nurturing, and domestically skillful.
Many retailers have decided to go against the old trend by ceasing to divide their toy sections into section for boys and girls, and it’s good news for Mattel to be an advocate of the movement. But it should not just end there. We must try to figure out and understand why boys might want to play with dolls instead of pushing toy trains on miniature railways.
In the cover story written by Benoit Denizet-Lewis for the New York Times magazine for its September 2009 issue, he wrote that there’s a big chance kids now are faced with identity crisis at a younger age, driving them to come out a little earlier than expected. However, it isn’t always an issue about their sexuality.
Kids play not to know about their gender preference but to get more acquainted with their environment and to know themselves. Regardless of what game they play or what toys they play with, playtime for kids should be the way for them to discover more of the world.
The Barbie doll is the kind of toy both boys and girls can play so they can work out real-world concepts with their hands. While some argue that these dolls impose notions about the traits of a woman, others believe that playing with dolls is a way for children to develop their social skills because controlling a human toy would need their imaginative communication and negotiation. To make the playtime more fun, they converse with their playmates just like how they do with their friends.
Talking through a character they have created can be one of the most memorable time for girls and even for effeminate young boys. The ad is Mattel’s way to encourage children to play with any toy they prefer. The company says it’d the best way for them to figure out who they truly are and what activity they want to be engaged in the future.
It should not matter at all if that’s a Bratz doll or a toy train or a robot or a giant stuffed toy, as long as these kinds of decision would not be bothered by any obsolete assumption regarding their sexuality.
Mattel looks forward to seeing every little girl get all the dazzling accessories she wants for her doll, and if her straight brother wants a doll for himself too, no one should stop him from joining in the fun.