Moschino Barbie is pretty special. A Mattel collaboration with the Italian luxury fashion house Moschino, she sold out in less than an hour after her debut last week.
There were just 700 of the limited-edition dolls, at a price tag of $150 each. (They’re now being resold for several times that.) Who could resist the stylish dolls, after all, clad in trademark Moschino logo belts and edgy leather suits?
Not a cherubic blond boy with a Mohawk, that’s for sure.
In the commercial, a male child actor declares, “Moschino Barbie is so fierce!” before dangling a sparkling gold and black leather purse from his doll’s arm.
Later in the ad, the same boy holds a miniature black phone up to Moschino Barbie’s ear and tells her, “It’s for you…” with a wink.
Though it’s well-known that men are over-represented in various fields — and paid more than women in Hollywood — Barbie commercials are one realm of entertainment and marketing in which males have been under-represented.
In that sense, our young Mohawked Moschino Barbie fan is a true trailblazer.
With the coming holiday season likely to provoke another debate over gender-specific toys, Mattel appears to have preemptively put down its stake for gender neutrality. This may have something to do with the nature of the collaboration: As blogger Andy Towle pointed out, the boy in the commercial bears a striking resemblance to Moschino’s similarly-Mohawked creative director, Jeremy Scott.
“The thing I love about Barbie is that she is the ultimate muse and inspired me to become a designer,” Scott told People. “Moschino style is all about humor coupled with high fashion and Barbie allows us to play out these looks in whole new way.”
The gender-bending commercial is all part of a larger conversation about whether boys and girls truly prefer the toys that they have historically been known to prefer, or if they are simply conditioned to do so.
Rallying behind the argument that gender is a social construct, some consumers have taken retailers to task over determining children’s tastes based on their gender.
In August, Target announced that its toy section would be redesigned so that all toys will be grouped together, and aisles will no longer have colored backdrops indicating gender. This change came after an Ohio mom’s viral tweet about a Target sign that separated “Girls’ Building Sets” from just “Building Sets.”
Another gendered toy label detractor is a preschooler named Riley, who in a 2011 YouTube video expressed her indignation over one overwhelmingly pink store aisle.
“The companies make these and try and trick the girls into buying the pink stuff instead of the stuff that boys want to buy, right?” she laments. “Why do all the girls have to buy princesses?” Riley asks as she slaps her hand down on a princess castle set.
The takeaway from the aww-inducing rant: “Some boys like superheroes, some boys like princesses!”
And some boys like Moschino Barbies. But is there any scientific evidence to indicate that children have really been prisoners to retailers’ gender categories all along?
Studies on monkeys have found that they have gender-specific toy preferences very similar to humans — even though monkeys clearly aren’t subject to the same social expectations. Research on two different species in 2002 and 2008 found that male adolescent monkeys preferred “wheeled vehicles” while females preferred dolls.
The results are less delineated, however, when it comes to experiments on human children.
A 2013 study from Texas A&M University suggested that hormone levels play a role in whether boys are drawn to trucks over dolls. Two years before that, psychologist Qazi Rahman told The Guardian that while there are no “robust sex differences in either adults or children,” there are “play preferences for objects with moving parts versus those that indicate some kind of individual (eg. crudely — trucks versus dolls).”
So even though gender differences in toy preferences are pretty well documented, there’s disagreement about where it comes from. Is it a combination of hormones and social pressures?
The Moschino Barbie boy doesn’t care. He seems happy enough to have a “fierce” doll in his hands.
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