In November, 2007, I wrote a letter to Robert Eckhart, the (then CEO) of Mattel toys, appealing to him to use his company’s power for good. The letter is as follows:
Dear Mr. Eckert;
You are in a key and promising position to impact the children of the world in a very healthy and productive way that will affect their growing self-esteem and confidence, and you may not even know it.
Lately I have seen some very sobering statistics on our youth harassment and physical violence from the ignorance of gender bias and discrimination. It frightens me to think that we, as adults and parents, are ultimately responsible for every beating death of every child considered different by their own peers.
I’m a mother, and my 9-year-old boy loves to play with Barbie®. Already, at the age of 9, he lies to strangers in the pink Barbie® aisles of stores pretending to be purchasing gifts for friends and is questioning his own gender beliefs because of it.
Mattel is an industry leader. First in class, best in breed, a powerful deity creating standards to live by for our children. I understand that the marketing campaign is as it always has been, but does that make it right? The more power we possess do we not need to become more socially responsible? Our social equalities in law govern that each individual’s rights include the right to be free from sponsored social discrimination. Mattel’s marketing is having an adverse impact on our children. We are using traditional gender stereotyping of the toys, in a time when more and more of our youth are questioning their identities. This is an important implication in their development. Are they really born with some identity crisis? or are we socially impacting their gender decisions because they don’t fall into a traditional “girl” or “boy” category. Not only are we affecting their individual self-esteem but also perpetuating the prejudices of the children who judge and discriminate against them.
Toys are toys, there are no gender assignments for them. They are for all children of all colours, shapes, sizes, and genders to play with. Be the industry leader that you are. Make the innovative change, do it for the future of the children of the world. Imagine the press Mattel would make? See how powerful your footprint can be and raise the bar for your contemporaries.
I write this letter to you to ask , with total respect and kindness, if you could consider the possibilities that your position could make. Sometimes it does take a village to raise a child, and sometimes it takes the whole world to raise a healthy and happy one.
A similar letter was sent out to McDonald’s Corporation, The Prime Minister of Canada, The President of the USA, the United Nations, and even the Queen of England. My young son and I worked on the letters together as an exercise in voicing our opinions and reaching out to affect change.
The first response came from the Queen of England—within a week. A hand-written note full of expressed concern for my son and the gravity of the issue. McDonald’s refused to “hear” that asking children if they want “girl” toys or “boy” toys with their Happy Meals was socially irresponsible. They deferred the responsibility to individual stores in a one-paragraph standard reply letter. The president of the USA and the UN never even acknowledged our letter. The office of the Prime Minister in my own country sent me a standard 2-page pamphlet on bullying with an impersonal “dear sir” letter attached. Oh, the irony.
Mattel asked me to call them and I eventually spoke with someone in their marketing department. The ultimate response was that Mattel was giving consumers what they wanted. This was how the children of the world wanted their toys marketed to them. I wondered if children could really know such a thing. I mean, really—they just want to play with toys.
This morning a video was shared with me through Facebook that has finally given me the answer. This is NOT what all children want. This small child is as confused as I am on the subject.
Thanks Riley, I will forward your “video” answer to Mattel Marketing for consideration.