Along with action figures, Mattel licensed the upcoming film Batman vs. Superman: Dawn of Justice to make a line of Barbies based on the heroes of the film: Batman, Wonder…
Toy manufacturer Mattel has released “Hello Barbie,” a Barbie doll that uses the latest in high-tech wizardry to carry on conversations with your child.
So what are Barbie’s thoughts when grown women ask her about feminism and the position of women in society today? She’s a bit uniformed, but she sure likes fashion!
This one is complicated. Mattel’s Barbie has entered into a partnership with Italian luxury goods designer Moschino to make exclusive Moschino-themed dolls. To announce the launch of the limited edition dolls, Moschino put out a commercial. In that commercial, they show a boy playing with Barbie right along side the girls.
I think this doesn’t do much for the majority of boys who are still likely to be uninterested in playing with ultra-feminine Barbie. The commercial relies almost exclusively on rigid gender stereotypes. Rather than moving towards more gender neutral imagery, they just included a boy that also embraces girl stereotypes. We also have some questions about whether it is a good idea to expose young girls (or boys) to the high-end consumerism of Italian fashion houses. While it does nothing to help the majority of girls and boys look beyond traditional gender roles, I suppose this commercial might mean a huge amount to a boy who identifies as female or just has a strong interest in fashion.
We remain highly suspicious of Barbie, but their recent wonderful girl-power commercial combined with this new attempt to break down gender barriers shows that they are at least exploring ideas in the right direction.
John Marcotte, founder of Heroic Girls, challenges the audience to look beyond what is labeled as “girly” or “feminine” to explore how such labels limit the potential of future generations.
The talk includes a clip from an earlier Heroic Girls video, Anya and Stella vs. Action Figures.
Studies and Research Cited
- Cuddy, Amy J.C., Caroline A. Wilmuth, and Dana R. Carney. “The Benefit of Power Posing Before a High-Stakes Social Evaluation.” Harvard Business School Working Paper, No. 13- 027, September 2012.
- Aurora M. Sherman, Eileen L. Zurbriggen. “ ‘Boys Can Be Anything’: Effect of Barbie Play on Girls’ Career Cognitions.” Sex Roles, Volume 70, Issue 5-6, pp 195-208, March 2014
- Sweet, Elizabeth. “Toys Are More Divided by Gender Now Than They Were 50 Years Ago.” The Atlantic. 2014.
- Chase Magnett. “Ms. Marvel Tops the October Sales Charts (Because Ms. Marvel is Amazing).” Comicbook.com. Nov. 17, 2014.
- Gabe Toro. “Guardians Of The Galaxy Did Better With Women Than Any Other Marvel Movie.” CinemaBlend, August 2014
I’ve always had an uneasy relationship with Barbie. As a male, she represented the “pink” aisle — a literal “no man’s land” in the toy department where most boys fear to tread. As a father, she epitomized a package of narrow, rigid gender stereotypes that I was afraid would limit my girls’ choices rather than broaden their horizons.
The record of how Barbie has been merchandised to girls is spotty at best. From her unrealistic body image, to the book “How to Lose Weight” that was included in the 1963 version. (The advice given? “Don’t eat.” It also came with a scale permanently set at 110 lbs.) Or the 1992 version that perkily exclaimed, “Math is hard!” Or the 2009 “Totally Tattoo Barbie” that came with two tramp stamps — one for Barbie, and one for the little girl who bought her.
Over and over again, Barbie has stuck a bubble-gum-pink high-heel in her mouth, sending bad messages to little girls wrapped in a cheerful “girl power” package. Sure, she showed girls that they could be doctors or astronauts — but only if they were also 5’9″ blonde Amazons with flawless makeup and breasts the size of volleyballs.
Psychology professors Aurora Sherman of Oregon State and Eileen Zubriggen of UC Santa Cruz shared many of the same reservations about Barbie. The wanted to investigate how playing with sexualized dolls affected young girls. But rather than focusing on how it affected their body image, as many studies have done before, Sherman and Zubriggen studied how the dolls affected their career aspirations.
From the press release regarding the study:
Thirty-seven girls between four to seven years old from an Oregon college town were randomly assigned to play for five minutes with either a sexualized Doctor Barbie or Fashion Barbie doll, or with more a more neutral Mrs. Potato Head doll. The girls were then shown photographs of 10 occupations and asked how many they themselves or boys could do in the future.
The girls who played with a Barbie doll – irrespective of whether it was dressed as a fashion model or a doctor – saw themselves in fewer occupations than are possible for boys. Those girls who played with Mrs. Potato Head reported nearly as many career options available for themselves as for boys.
The two Barbie dolls were identical except for clothing, with unrealistic bodies, extremely youthful and attractive faces, and long full hair. The researchers believe that the doll itself trumps the role or career aspirations suggested by its costume.
“It’s sobering that a few minutes of play with Barbie had an immediate impact on the number of careers that girls saw as possible for themselves” Zurbriggen said. “And it didn’t matter whether Barbie was dressed as a model or as a pediatrician, suggesting that the doll’s sexualized shape and appearance might trump whatever accessories are packaged with her.”
“Perhaps Barbie can ‘Be Anything’ as the advertising for this doll suggests,” said Sherman. “But girls who play with her may not apply these possibilities to themselves.”