Gender-Equal Changes Come in Small Steps. Here’s One: Boys and Dolls. Let’s Fix This Today.

04/29/2016 06:48 pm ET Updated Apr 30, 2016

We are a generation of change.  Gender discussions abound at the moment as we see strong voices standing up for equality.  The problems seem to overwhelm.  How can we change things?

By changing.  By taking the steps--little by little--that amount to something big.  That’s what Boy Story is doing when it comes to the toy industry.  Dolls in particular.  Walk into any toy store and go to the doll section.  It is probably in an aisle colored pink.  Who do you see?  A bunch of cute, adorable dolls, smiling back at you with long flowing hair, blushed cheeks, and frilly dresses.  Boy dolls are a rarity and nowhere near a match to the girl doll market.  What message is this sending to our children? Not a good one.

A few of the messages that the gender imbalanced doll market sends are:

  • Boys can’t play with dolls
  • Girls should play with dolls
  • Nurturing, care-taking, empathy, and playing with like-aged children and babies are female roles
  • Boys are "odd," “weak,” or "less" if they play and explore role-play in nurturing, caretaking, relating, and playing with like-aged children and babies
  • Boys interested in pretend companion play should play with adult-type figures rather than same-aged figures
  • Boys interested in pretend companion should be taught that violence, brute strength, and bullying solve problems
Ann Fuentes

There’s also the problem that most of the dolls out there are white.  What?  We’re limiting our kids who want to romp around with little doll friends to white females?

Playing with dolls has long been proven to have positive effects and developmental benefits for kids.  Toy Insider Mom, Laurie Schacht, put it this way:

“The importance of pretend play and make believe should not be lost on parents. It is such an integral and healthy part of growing up. When kids imagine, they begin to think about who and what they will be one day and exercise creative muscles. Playtime becomes a mini brainstorming session with their friends (or often times, just with themselves or their imaginary friends).”

Ann Fuentes

In her Huffington Post article on the value of pretend play, Schacht then hit the nail on the head:

 “[P]retend play also lays a sturdy foundation for kids to learn how to approach real-life situations and to practice real-life skills — whether they become a nurturing mommy, or a nurturing mommy who is also the CEO of a Fortune 500 company.”

Pretend play with dolls should be equally available, without judgment, to boys and girls.  The current imbalance needs to change.  We need balance in our toys so the messages our children see--and probably adopt--are ones of equality and diversity.  Balanced toys provide children with choice in their play and contribute to healthy development of all kids.  Our children’s toys teach them some of the most basic perceptions of society.  The more diverse and equal they are, the more we encourage diversity and equality in adulthood. 

The phenomenon of doll gender imbalance has not gone unnoticed.  In a hugely popular viral internet moment, we saw one mom make an “American boy” doll for her son.  That mom (Gina DeMillo Wagner) wrote about the experience: “A year ago, when my daughter turned 7, she received one of American Girl’s popular ‘Truly Me’ dolls, customized to look like her. My son, naturally, wanted a doll that looks like him, too. Trouble is, there are no 18-inch ‘American Boy’ dolls available.”  Wagner did something about it, but the only way she could figure how to do so was to buy a girl doll, remove her makeup and cut her hair to create a boy doll. 

How odd that she could not just go buy a boy doll.

Ann Fuentes

We all recognize the problem with a gender-skewed toy market, and we are obligated to effect change.  Our kids’ future depends on it.  This is not something we can just leave up to the massive toy conglomerates who have capitalized on stereotypes, shaped the market in a harmful way, and continue to perpetuate negative messages.  Let’s open up the market.

Boy Story is a burgeoning company that introduces diverse boy dolls to the toy aisles for all kids.  Founded by sisters with a dream to break down barriers so our kids can share the sandbox, Boy Story’s main product is 18” ball-jointed boy Action Dolls.  Their Kickstarter campaign calls for us to take action now, as a community, to contribute to the changes we are always discussing and bring boy dolls into the market.  As a community, crowdfunding gives us an amazing new tool to revolutionize, coalesce around ideas, and make change happen.

Those who understand the importance of such on overwhelming objective, and would like to stand with the hundreds of others who want to see diversity and equality in today's toys, can also get on board by backing the Boy Story’s Kickstarter campaign

 This will launch a line of diverse boy dolls to join the thousands of girl dolls out there and start to balance out the toy aisles.  Let’s walk into future toy stores and be amazed by the selection and choice for our kids rather than be sucked into a world of exaggerated stereotypes.  It’s time for our toys to represent the world we live in.  Diverse, gender equal, and fun.

Dolls are integrally related to pretend play.  They are the toys where our children relate and engage on a human level.  They “lay a sturdy foundation” for life.

Let’s join together and revolutionize the toy aisles.  Let’s join together and make a change to contribute to gender equality.  Let’s join together and give our kids the choice in play they deserve.

Ann Fuentes
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