In an op-ed for Slate Magazine, a transgender writer criticized toymaker Mattel's line of "gender-neutral" Barbie dolls, saying they are too "playful" and do not go nearly far enough in "deconstructing the gender binary."
Alex Myers, "a transgender guy who's spoken to young people about gender for nearly 25 years," characterized himself as "deeply skeptical" of what the line of dolls, which was launched in September, is actually communicating.
"On a basic level, the doll falls far short of actually embodying or even representing a nonbinary identity," Myers informed his audience. "'Gender-neutral,' the term Mattel uses in its marketing of the doll, is not, in fact, a term that many — any? — people use to describe themselves. They use 'gender-fluid,' or genderqueer, or nonbinary, or nonconforming."
"If you move past that, you get to the body," where, Myers says, "we have … nothing."
"The bodily blankness," he argues, "erases so much of what the discussions — personal and political — about gender focus on. These dolls do not have bodies that are like ours; these dolls do not have bodies that society reads in a gendered way at all. That sort of misses the entire point."
This begs the question: Does Myers want children's' toys to have genitalia? Altered genitalia? What indicators of gender would he like to see included for the dolls to more accurately express what it is like to be nonbinary?
According to Myers, while the dolls may succeed in offering children ways to alter gender expression, they "completely gloss over the much-thornier topic of gender identity, which is internal, a sense of self."
Then, at the heart of his argument, he asserts the dolls create a new troubling paradigm:
Their bodies are erased: Biological sex doesn't pertain to them. Their gender identity — how they understand themselves — is impossible to discern as well. And their gender expression … well, that's limited to three options: feminine and masculine and half-and-half. That's still an incredibly binary way to look at gender. To suggest that the "other;" option to masculine or feminine is "both" or "in between" is a basic misunderstanding of how many gender-nonconforming people express their gender. Gender is not a line between two endpoints — to be nonbinary is not to be androgynous. These dolls only further entrench that misunderstanding and simultaneously reinforce the idea that gender is "playful" and easy to switch around, accusations that are often leveled at trans youths when they come out.
Myers laments over the idea that these new dolls may simply be just the latest step in "a deeper story of constructed gender" where toy manufacturers have played a major part in exaggerating the gender binary.
He also resigns himself to the notion that, in the end, it's all about money.
The gender-neutral dolls are likely "a ploy to create a new market," Myers concludes, designed to "[appeal] to parents who want to be attuned to their children's gender expressions and to companies that, in the Trump era, have found it commercially advantageous to be socially progressive."
Each kit retails around $23.
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