Barbies Are For Boys Too
Beatrice Alexander was a Jewish entrepreneur in the early 20th century. She was raised in New York’s Lower East Side in extreme poverty, but eventually became the founder of the widely successful Alexander Doll Company. Little girls all over America had, and still have, “Madame Alexander” dolls, and Alexander was an influential businesswoman during a period when most of the women she knew were working in factories.
I loved to play with dolls when I was younger and had an extensive collection of all different kinds. Maybe I even had a Madame Alexander doll, who knows? However, as I’ve grown older, I have developed a big problem with the genderization of kids’ toys. Although I greatly respect Beatrice Alexander for being a trailblazer for women of that generation, the genderization of kids’ toys is an issue that was only perpetuated by her company.
As I’ve grown older and thought about toys that are traditionally for girls versus toys that are traditionally for boys, I’ve realized that there’s an inherently harmful difference between the two. Girls are widely encouraged to play with dolls and princess merchandise. Boys are pushed toward superheroes and cars. While little boys are challenging their brains by building complicated structures with plastic blocks and bricks or racing cars, little girls are told to play with the kitchen and food toys, and to look after and feed baby dolls. This strikes me as ridiculous. If a girl prefers to play princess, and a boy prefers to race toy cars, that’s fine; but society shouldn’t be pushing different genders toward different toys.
The genderization of kids’ toys is something that frustrates me to no end, as it promotes gender inequality starting at literally the beginning of life. This gender inequality is perpetuated by doll companies like the Alexander Doll Company. The brand sells almost exclusively girl dolls based on ballerinas, princesses, and dress-wearing female movie characters, with very few dolls that are boys. Although boys can definitely play with female dolls, the Madame Alexander dolls are clearly aimed at girls.
One recent, ongoing example of the gender inequality in kids’ toys is the Lego company’s relatively new branch of toys, Lego Friends. Lego, a company that has generally targeted boys with their products that mainly feature male figures, decided to be more inclusive of girls with this new branch. Although it’s great that these intricate building toys are now being targeted to girls as well, Lego Friends, with a purple butterfly adorning the logo, is the opposite of what a feminist parent would want for her daughter. The normal Legos feature ninjas, book and movie characters and scenes, and famous world landmarks, and the typical Lego “minifigures” are mainly male. Lego Friends, on the other hand, is a sea of pink and purple blocks and flowery accessories. The characters in the toy sets, all female, swim together in bikinis, have big sleepovers, and bake homemade treats for each other in their shiny plastic kitchens.
Again, if a young girl enjoys playing with that sort of toy, then that’s fine. I really, truly believe there is absolutely nothing wrong with girls genuinely liking things that are traditionally “feminine.” In fact, I was one of those young girls myself. But Lego shouldn’t just market these toys to girls, and mainly market their other toy sets to boys. Why can’t all their toys be marketed to boys AND girls? Why can’t they have female characters in their action and adventure sets and male characters in their kitchen and sleepover sets? They’re only perpetuating harmful stereotypes by aiming these very different toys at different genders.
Society is progressing though, slowly but surely. Target recently decided to take away signs in their stores that direct boys and girls to certain types of toys, therefore encouraging kids to play with whichever toys they want. When I heard about this, I was over the moon. Kids shopping at Target will now learn that girls don’t need to pick the dolls if they don’t want to, and similarly, boys don’t need to pick action toys if they don’t want to. Kids can now learn that there’s no need to, as Beatrice Alexander said after the release of her ballerina doll, “make [little girls] more graceful.” I really hope that one day soon, all young boys and girls will be able to choose what they want to play with, without being influenced by societal stereotypes. I hope that soon, without any judgment, a little girl can choose a princess doll, OR a racecar—whichever she prefers. I hope that a little boy can choose a ninja-themed Lego set, OR a little pink kitchen—whichever he prefers.
I know that Beatrice Alexander and her famous Madame Alexander dolls never intended to cause any harm. I genuinely admire Beatrice for being such a savvy entrepreneur and successful businesswoman at a time when women generally didn’t have these roles in society. Although her dolls perpetuated gender separation in kids’ toys, I recognize that awareness of this as an issue may not have been present at the time. Times have changed, though, and it’s time for kids’ toys to change along with them.
This piece was written as part of JWA’s Rising Voices Fellowship.
How to cite this page
Richmond, Abby. "Barbies Are For Boys Too." 11 November 2015. Jewish Women's Archive. (Viewed on October 3, 2023) <https://jwa.org/blog/risingvoices/barbies-are-for-boys-too>.