When you hear the word “doll”, the first thing that comes to your mind is “Barbie”. The main difference between dolls and action figures is that the former is geared towards girls, while the latter is geared towards boys. Dolls usually include coordinating outfits while action figures generally include clothes and accessories that you may not see every day.
Look at Barbie. Since her birth in 1959, Barbie has been the quintessential toy for girls, with her interchangeable clothes, pink cars and variations of the Malibu Beach House. Although the collection later included Ken, of course Ken was not an action figure at all. His clothes, like Barbie’s, were typical of everyday, albeit masculine.
By comparison, your typical “action character” is muscular, especially to an exaggerated degree, and may include weapons as accessories. Two classic examples that come to mind are Thundercats and GI Joe. Thundercats characters, although somewhat human in appearance, were normally yellow or gray in color, with overdeveloped muscles; their dresses consisted of tank tops or tights. Most of the Thundercats figures, male or female, included a weapon; Lion-O, for example, was packaged with The Sword of Omens, a long sword with a fiery red handle.
GI Joes, while not as muscular as the Thundercats, still looked physically fit and generally included accessories like machine guns, knives, and grenades. Can you really argue that these weren’t designed for boys? That’s not to say the girls never played with them, but that’s not what marketing companies had in mind.
Other popular dolls include American Girl and Ashton-Drake, both of which are also geared towards girls. Sometimes, some adults may collect dolls of this type, for their realistic appearance and value, if kept in good condition.
Another classic collection of action figures that might come to mind is the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles, the very name of which suggests action and possibly violence. Like GI Joe and Thundercats, turtles, armor and play sets with vehicles like tanks and cars studded with artillery. Again, while some girls may have found Ninja Turtles attractive, they were mostly liked by boys. The villains were also distorted and mutated, like Shredder and his henchmen, Bebop and Rocksteady. Perhaps these figures were meant to attract the same kids who enjoyed aggressive competitive sports and war games.
Today’s action figures vary slightly, but again their overall appearance is more or less the same. Perhaps, even as times change, people’s mentality tends to remain the same. Toys made for boys and girls, for the most part, reflect this.