Why there will be more ‘woke’ toys under Christmas trees this year

Story by CBC Kids News • 2019-12-11 16:32

From Ms. Monopoly to toys with disabilities, the modern toy box is changing

Do you remember what toys you had when you were younger?

If you had the same toy box today, chances are it might look a little — or a lot — different.

As we saw with some classic movies this year, things of the past have been getting some tweaks in order to be woke to the world we live in today.

This includes toys.

Although conversations around inclusive toys have been happening for years, we’re now seeing more and more major toy companies revamp their classic products to be more diverse and inclusive.

Take Ms. Monopoly, for example

Hasbro says its new Ms. Monopoly game was made to ‘celebrate women trailblazers and update a few things. It’s about time!’ (Hasbro Inc.)

In the makeover of the classic game, a businesswoman replaces the familiar Monopoly man, and players buy innovations made by women, like Wi-Fi, instead of properties.

As a way to address the gap in pay between men and women in the real world, female players also start with more money, and collect more money than male players when passing “Go.”

And Monopoly wasn’t the only toy this year to empower women. Even toys on screen were getting makeovers.

Bo Peep is done playing around

If you grew up watching Toy Story, you probably remember Bo Peep as a gentle, ‘ladylike’ woman in a pink polka-dot dress.

In her new look, Bo hangs up her dress in favour of a cape and trousers. (Disney/Pixar)

Cut to this year’s Toy Story 4, and Bo Peep is an independent woman with a fierce new outlook on life.

In a much bigger role than in previous films, she plays a “lost toy” who rejects the idea of an owner and instead helps other toys, using her crook as a battlestaff to carve out her own destiny.

And while some products are redefining gender roles, others are tackling gender diversity.

Not just ‘boy toys’ and ‘girl toys’

In September, Mattel — the maker of Barbie — released a new line of gender-neutral dolls called Creatable World.

In a promo published by TIME, Creatable World is touted as a ‘doll line designed to keep labels out and invite everyone in.’ (Mattel)

Unlike the hyper-feminized Barbie or hyper-masculinized Ken, the dolls aren’t assigned any gender in particular, and kids can choose whether to dress them in short or long hair, pants or skirts, and whatever else they want to create their own character.

Taylor Taylor, a 14-year-old from Edmonton, said they like the doll because it “actually looks like a kid.”

“Growing up, the dolls I had were all tall, thin, and didn’t look like an actual person ...As I grew older, I thought, aren’t I supposed to get taller? Aren’t I supposed to look like that?”

Taylor said a customizable doll that kids can actually see themselves in allows them to “test out who they want to be,” and shows them who they could be rather than who they should be.

According to Taylor, making the doll gender-neutral gives kids even more freedom to figure themselves out.

“It exposes kids to different ideas of gender in a way they can understand at a young age, which isn’t something I had growing up.”

Other attempts to reflect diversity

Although Mattel has released several Barbies over the years with different ethnic backgrounds, their 2015 Fashionista line featured a wider range of skin tones and hair textures.

These Barbies were on display at a workshop at the Mattel design centre in December 2018. Over the years, the dolls have evolved to be more diverse and have different body shapes. (Mark Ralston/AFP/Getty Images)

The company expanded on the line the following year to include body types like curvy, tall and petite, telling Time magazine they’d hoped the dolls would “more closely reflect their young owners’ world.”

The same year, LEGO made some more attempts to reflect the disability community by releasing a LEGO wheelchair user.

This mini Lego figure is part of LEGO’s 2016 Fun in the Park set. (Daniel Karmann/DPA/AFP/Getty Images)

Mattel’s American Girl doll collection has also repped the disability community in recent years, featuring dolls with crutches, diabetes kits and hearing aids.

Why these toys are important

Wendy Cukier, the academic director of Ryerson University’s Diversity Institute, said that “when kids grow up without toys that reflect them and their experience, they don’t feel that they belong.”

Wendy Cukier is a champion of social justice who has led a variety of projects to advance diversity and inclusion. (Wendy Cukier)

“I think that toy companies recognize that women and other groups are important, and that they have a responsibility to reinforce opportunities and potential rather than stereotypes,” said Cukier.

Not just about companies wanting to do good

Cukier said the reality is that toy companies want to make money, and they recognize the increasing spending power of minority groups.

“Women and others are gaining power, moving up in hierarchies, assuming leadership roles in companies, and making more money … it just makes good economic sense to appeal to them”

But do they practise what they preach?

Cukier said it’s worth it for kids to “dig deeper into the issue of authenticity” and make sure the companies they buy from aren’t just using diversity and inclusion to make money.

“If companies are advancing women as heroes in campaigns, but not promoting them as leaders in their company, there’s a disconnect.”

With files from The Associated Press

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