Can Toys Change the Way We Think About Gender Expression?

Can Toys Change the Way We Think About Gender Expression?

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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.

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.

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.

Article authored by Megan K. Maas, Assistant Professor of Human Development and Family Studies, Michigan State University, and published by