It’s fitting, on the heels of last week’s blog, that I have been introduced to The Maplelea Girls – a group of Canadian dolls.
Conversations about race can be difficult. Yes, we are making progress, but there are still issues to raise and improvements to make – and unless we talk about these, they won’t happen. Remember that we walk through the world noticing (and being impacted by) different things, because of who we are.
Maplelea is an example of a company trying to do the right thing, and making some good choices, but still having room for improvement. And I’m going to assume that much of that is likely due to unconscious bias. But that’s why we hire diverse staff and create inclusive environments so they can share their perspectives and help organizations see more.
The Maplelea Girls are a core group of dolls (7) that have names and histories, and each come from a certain region of Canada. Kudos to the company for making one of those core group Inuit (and doing due diligence in making sure she is an accurate reflection of a 10 year old girl growing up in Nunavut), and one brown-skinned. That’s a step in the right direction, but it’s not far enough. All of the girls have long straight hair (so, long hair = feminine), and 5 of the 7 are White. No First Nations, Black, or Asian representation. Hello, Canada?
That’s the core group. The in group. So there’s a message right there.
The other dolls are the Maplelea Friends. There are 23 of them. And they don’t have names – just numbers. Once you buy one, you get to name them and write their history, which is a nice touch. But here is the beginning of the unconscious messaging about worth and value- who comes with a name, and a place, and a history in Canada. The Maplelea Friends bring some more diversity to the mix in terms of skin tone and hair texture, as well as eye shape. Which is great. But remember, they are the Friends, not the Girls.
Here are the stats on the Friends;
- They have different skin tones: light (15), medium-light (4), medium (2), medium-dark (1) and dark(1). I’m very impressed by this range actually.
- There are two with “almond-shaped” eyes.
- Different types of hair: straight (the default) is not defined. 11 of the 17 have straight hair. And then there are curls and textured for the medium-dark and dark skin dolls.
- Different hair lengths: 6 have shoulder length or short hair, the rest – 17 – have long hair (and all the long-haired dolls have straight hair).
- And I have to say add, that with the exception of the (I’m assuming) Asian representations, all of the light and medium-light skinned dolls have the same face. Which is strange.
I want to believe that the people behind these dolls had the best intentions in mind. I like the fact that they are trying to have some diversity – 5 different skin tones, 4 different hair textures, and an Inuit identity all speak to that intention. It’s nice to have at least some variety for girls to be able to see themselves. But if you look a little closer, you will see the problem within that variety, because if you’re White, you have lots of options to choose from. And if you’re brown, Black, or Asian, the number drops from 15 choices to 2 for each. And if you’re Indigenous (while it’s great that there is an option) there is only 1 doll to choose from.
So while it’s great to have the diversity and variety, I fear that the message still speaks to inequity in terms of who has value racially. And if we go a little further, what feminine looks like (long hair wins).
So Maplelea is onto something. It’s hard to find dolls that are not White in Canada. And it’s hard to find non-White dolls with hair that is racially correct. So at least we are making progress.
But my point is that I’m hoping that this is the beginning of their line of dolls, and not the final count. Because there is so much more to being a girl than long hair, and so much more diversity within races and cultures that can be represented in order for little girls to see themselves in the dolls they love – or see each other in the dolls they can choose. And appreciate the diversity that is Canada.
And don’t get me started on why there aren’t any Maplelea Boys!!