Mattel releases doll of US activist Rosa Parks but description of 'ordinary' life sparks backlash

A figurine of the famed civil rights protester has been released to mark Women's Equality Day

A doll of Rosa Parks has been added to Mattel's line-up of Inspiring Women figurines. Courtesy Mattel
Powered by automated translation

Previous versions have immortalised women including pilot Amelia Earhart, artist Frida Kahlo and Nasa mathematician Katherine Johnson in plastic – and now Mattel have added two new dolls to its Inspiring Women collection.

The toymaker, most famed for its Barbie doll, has added American activist Rosa Parks and American astronaut Sally Ride to its roster of figurines, Mattel announced this week.

The additions were unveiled to coincide with Women's Equality Day, which fell on Monday, August 26 in the US.

The two women were chosen for their boundary-breaking work; Ride became both the first American woman and youngest American to travel into space in 1983, while Parks has been nicknamed the "the first lady of civil rights" for her role in the Montgomery bus boycott.

The then-42-year-old Parks refused to move to the back of a racially segregated bus in 1955, in a landmark move that sparked public transport protests across the country.

Parks, who died in 2005, was awarded the Congressional Gold Medal in 1999, one of the highest civilian awards in the US.

“These historical women broke boundaries that made the world a better place for future generations of girls,” a press release from Mattel detailed.

While the addition of Parks and Ride has garnered positive responses on social media, some Twitter users have criticised Mattel for depicting the women with disproportionate figures typical of a Barbie doll.

Some have also taken issue with the accompanying text used to describe Parks's achievements on the toy's ecommerce page. 

"Rosa Louise Parks led an ordinary life as a seamstress until an extraordinary moment on December 1, 1955," wrote Mattel.

Jeanne Theoharis, a political science professor at Brooklyn College, New York, took to Twitter to point out that Parks had in fact been active in the civil rights movement for many years.

"I wrote a book detailing her life of freedom fighting – two decades of activism before her arrest and four decades after. Can I help you do better?" the academic wrote.

Mattel have not yet responded to criticism, though the doll is already sold out on the toymakers' website.