Mr Potato Head will now be known as Potato Head. The popular toy is no longer male according to Hasbro and the decision set social media alight as people reacted to the gender labelling of a plastic toy. People wanted to know why the decision was made, why it was made now, and the wider social implications of the decision.
At any time, did Hasbro consider the hidden danger of declaring Potato Head gender neutral; the danger that the decision trivialises the issue of gender neutrality in humans?
Potato Head is not a person. Potato Head is a plastic toy. It has no emotions, no intelligence, no feelings and no personality. It is not a sentient being. A toy cannot decide its own gender and a toy has never suffered the personal or public trauma of grappling with gender identity. A toy will never be teased. A toy has never been cast out or shunned by its peers, colleagues, friends or family.
A toy does not have to live in a body it despises due to societal, familial, cultural or religious pressure. A toy does not have to decide whether to identify as gender neutral, or to go further and undergo a physical transition from its gender of birth.
A toy is just pieces of moulded plastic.
The danger of declaring a plastic toy gender neutral is that people who label themselves gender neutral can now be compared to a plastic toy.
“So you’re gender neutral, just like Mr Potato Head,” others will say.
Furthermore, the toy will still exist as Mr Potato Head – just the branding on the box will change. What’s the point?
This further trivialises the issue of gender neutrality -as if Hasbro is saying,
“We will make a stand on a social issue, but not if it means we sell fewer toys…”
If toys become gender neutral, can other inanimate objects be declared gender neutral?
Let’s not beat around the bush, Hasbro made this decision with a purely commercial motivation and accompanied it with all the right corporate euphemisms. Hasbro claims the change aims to ‘promote gender equality and inclusion’, but clearly the move also posited Hasbro as a socially responsible company which is set to gain considerable PR benefit.
Potato Head is also an ageing ‘brand’. The Toy Story franchise is now old, and children have moved on to other toys and other cartoons. Declaring the toy gender neutral earns the company international publicity which is likely to increase sales.
Is this why Mrs Potato Head is still female?
Will Hasbro wait for her husband’s publicity to die down before declaring her neutrality?
Perhaps gender neutrality also allows Hasbro to sell more individual pieces, belonging to both genders, to stick onto the base shape of the Potato. This mix and match technique made Potato Head, and Mrs Potato Head, somewhat unique as a toy, but also created a marketing opportunity:
“Now that Potato Head is gender neutral,” Hasbro can say “you can add even more pieces to its ‘body’ – and you can buy them all right here…”
Is it only a matter of time before Woody, Buzz and the remaining Toy Story characters are declared gender neutral, and when this happens, how much damage will have been done to actual human beings who identify as gender neutral?