In 1972, children’s book author Charlotte Zolotow broke ground with her classic tale “William’s Doll,” challenging gender expectations around kids and their toys. Inspired by her husband’s initial struggles with fatherhood, Zolotow aimed to normalize boys playing with dolls, a theme echoed in a short film and song adaptation.
Hasbro’s Bold Move in the ’80s
Fast forward to 1985 when toy giant Hasbro decided to challenge norms by introducing My Buddy, a soft-bodied doll targeted at boys. At the time, the idea of boys playing with dolls raised eyebrows. Hasbro’s careful research, including interviews with parents, paved the way for My Buddy’s entrance into a market dominated by electronic toys.
The Doll Boom of the Mid-’80s
Amid the rise of electronic toys, dolls experienced a resurgence between 1983 and 1985, with shipments increasing by 111%, generating a staggering $3.36 billion. The iconic Cabbage Patch Kids created a frenzy, leading to in-store riots during the 1985 Christmas season. Hasbro seized this opportune moment to challenge stereotypes and market dolls to both girls and boys.
My Buddy’s Action-Oriented Image
Despite Hasbro acknowledging that children, regardless of gender, have “soft sides,” My Buddy’s advertising veered away from portraying boys as nurturing caretakers. Instead, commercials depicted the doll as a rough-and-tumble companion for daily adventures. The catchy My Buddy song reinforced this image, emphasizing friendship over quasi-parenthood.
Soft Macho Success
The marketing strategy worked wonders. My Buddy’s advertising focused on its action-oriented appeal, branding it as “A little boy’s special friend! Rough and tough, yet soft and cuddly.” The doll, retailing at $25, secured the eighth spot on the list of top-selling toys in 1985, with Cabbage Patch Kids claiming the top position.
Chucky’s Unintended Impact
My Buddy’s success led Hasbro to introduce Kid Sister, a companion doll for girls. However, in 1988, the horror movie “Child’s Play” featured a doll named Chucky, resembling My Buddy. The film’s success inadvertently tainted My Buddy’s image, contributing to its discontinuation by Hasbro in the early ’90s.
Dolls and Boys: A Continuing Conversation
The My Buddy legacy lingered, creating new challenges. After the doll’s discontinuation, Playskool took over production, but some children, influenced by Chucky’s portrayal, developed a fear of their once-beloved Buddy. The intersection of dolls and boys remained newsworthy, prompting American Girl to introduce Logan Everett, their first boy doll, in 2017.
American Girl’s Modern Approach
In response to long-standing requests, American Girl introduced Logan Everett, a boy doll with his own drum set, adding diversity to their line. While not explicitly marketed for boys, Logan’s character represents a step toward more inclusive doll options. Some argue that American Girl missed an opportunity to highlight the benefits of boys playing with dolls. The journey from William’s Doll to My Buddy reflects evolving perspectives on gender norms in the realm of toys. While challenges persist, the inclusion of Logan Everett signals a positive shift, inviting children to explore diverse experiences through dolls, regardless of gender.