The founders of a new line of realistic boy dolls are positioning their company as a corrective to the gender-segregated world of kids’ toys. Boy Story, funded in part through a Kickstarter that launched in April, looks a lot like American Girl dolls for boys: They’re properly proportioned, high-end dolls that each have a corresponding book about overcoming some kind of adversity.
Sisters Katie Jarvis and Kristen Johnson call the Boy Story toys “action dolls” and claim there’s currently nothing like them in a doll marketplace largely occupied by baby dolls, action figures, stuffed animals, and all manner of pink girl dolls. “While pregnant with her second son, Kristen set off shopping to buy a special playmate for her older son—to help introduce the new baby and all that,” the company’s website says. “She wanted a doll that was same-age, cool, and could withstand some serious play. Weeks on the hunt for an ideal toy, nothing turned up.”
Boy Story is starting out with two dolls, Mason and Billy. According to a report from Circa, Mason is “caucasian/Hispanic”; Billy is black. (Unlike Addy, American Girl’s groundbreaking first black doll, Billy didn’t have to be born a slave.) A little hipster in cuffed denim, flannel, and a miniature pompadour, Mason has a backstory about “the value of patience,” in which he tries to solve a mystery while “his wild imagination takes him to lands filled with mystical creatures, sword fights, and even dragon-frogs!” Billy, in a nautical-striped hoodie and off-brand Chucks, plays a prank on his sister in his book—something about losing her necklace—and learns “the value of forgiveness.”
There have been several encouraging, if incremental, developments in toys marketed toward girls in recent years: Goldieblox, which serves up engineering-lite puzzles in pink and purple packaging, is one; there are also the Ava DuVernay Barbie, “curvy” Barbie, and video-game coder Barbie. But boy toys have been slow to progress in the era of increased attention to early gender conditioning. Dolls are missing from boys’ play, and the world is suffering for it, according to Boy Story. “Boys love them because they finally have a tool that encourages them to embrace and grow their natural desire to be nurturers,” Boy Story’s website says. Unlike superheroes, which “emphasize powers, muscles, imagination, and adulthood,” dolls “emphasize relationships” by encouraging kids to care for them.
The company has plans for at least two more dolls: Aspen, a blond, blue-eyed white boy; and Kenji, a black-haired Japanese boy. Boy Story is also aligning itself with Emma Watson’s HeForShe campaign, a United Nations effort to get men on board with feminism. The doll company says it’s already made a donation to HeForShe and will channel a portion of its profits to the organization. A HeForShe doll, surely the wokest bae to ever occupy the shelves of a doll aisle, may also be in the works.
Mason and Billy seem to provide a world of opportunities that most little boys have missed out on: having doll slumber parties; punishing dolls for running away (getting lost) by locking them in the closet for days; making Mason and Billy have sex with each other like we all (?) did with our Barbies in their Barbie Dreamhouse hot tub. But the best, most gender-progressive aspect of the Boy Story line might be the dolls’ size: 18 inches, the same size as American Girl dolls. This means that Mason can probably fit into Melody’s cat-eye sunglasses and houndstooth shift, and Billy can gallivant about his bayou in Samantha’s pink party dress. Feminism has won!