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Everyone relax, experts say gender neutral dolls aren't harmful to kids

Everyone relax, experts say gender neutral dolls aren't harmful to kids.
Photo credit:
Mattel

Late last month Mattel successfully merged into the 21st century with a new genderless Creatable World doll line, some have praised the toys for their ability to allow children to decide the sex of their dolls if any, but some have said that's not a good thing. 

Stefanie Goerlich, a sex therapist and guest lecturer on minority sexual communities at Northwestern University says there are benefits to allowing kids to play with dolls even if those dolls don't prompt a gender assignment. 

“One of the benefits of imaginative play is that it lets kids experiment with different kinds of world building. For the first time, trans identities and gender variance can be included in the imaginative worlds that all kids build through play,” Goerlich told the South China Morning Post.

It is also unlikely that the Mattel dolls are going to have any significant impact on shifting the way kids think about gender roles, all they want to do is play.

“It’s going to take more time to move that dial. But I think digitally we’ve moved it," said Dawnn Karen, a professor at the Fashion Institute of Technology which studies how fashion affects human behavior. 

Other experts such as New York's Dr Joshua Safer, the executive director of Mount Sinai’s Centre for Transgender Medicine and Surgery don't think the toys are a part of some conspiracy. He agrees with the general assessment of low impact influence. 

“There’s no political agenda. Nobody’s getting pushed to do anything. It just creates opportunity for a few people who were kind of invisible in society to also have their imagination be addressed,” Safer says.

Despite the stamp of approval some professionals have for the toys, there are still some who think they are damaging. 

Dr. Carole Lieberman, a psychiatrist and author of Bad Girls: Why Men Love Them & How Good Girls Can Learn Their Secrets isn't on board with Mattel or the Creatable World dolls, in fact she thinks they are harmful.

“There’s nothing wrong with having more wigs or clothes to choose from when playing with a doll, but it’s the underlying message that is extremely harmful – encouraging children to think of themselves as gender neutral, when they have been born with sexual organs of a boy or girl,” Lieberman says.

Dr. Lieberman understands that men and women can identify as someone outside of their medically assigned gender, but that realization doesn't need to be influenced early by kid's toys or other outside sources. 

“Kids go through phases. … Of course I believe that people should be accepted, but not convincing them that they are a boy or a girl when they’re three years old,” she says, giving an example of one of her own cases.

Dr. Safer counteracts that opinion. He says if influence had anything to do with it, medically forcing gender identities would have worked in the past. 

“Parents can be somewhat reassured that if they let their kids explore, they won’t accidentally brainwash themselves …

“If that could happen we probably would have succeeded in the past when the medical establishment was intentionally and aggressively trying to brainwash intersex kids (children born with characteristics that don’t align to typical definitions of male or female bodies) to have a gender identity opposite of what would have been predicted.”

He adds that the dolls are not going to make your kids transgender. 

“Wherever they’re going to end up, they’re still going to end up there. You won’t have accidentally facilitated something,” Safer says.

Current generations probably know someone who uses pronouns outside of their assigned gender or prefer neutral ones. 

“We don’t have all of these differences as children, we’re very open and free with our thinking,” Karen says.

“You don’t want to be too extreme,” Safer says, “Just let the kids be.”