Feminism, Barbie, and Grrrl Empowerment

Pink walls, pink bed-sheets, pink rug, and pink dresses.

It was like my childhood bedroom threw-up gender normative stereotypes.

I, like most girls, was obsessed with Barbie dolls. I not so secretly played with my dolls until the tender age of 13. Though aware that I was much older than the average doll owner my mother had no problem buying me these tiny plastic ideals of feminine beauty. To her, I was holding onto my innocence. Little did she know that my dolls were involved in all kinds of debauchery…. but I digress.

We hear about all the studies on how Barbie’s ridiculous proportions affect girl’s self-esteem.  Barbie still supports a very shallow and sexist worldview about women. When it does try to be progressive, it fails hard. Regardless of the diversity of the dolls, there is still a preference of white dolls, even from young girls of color.

There’s also the whole exploitation of little girls in the name of the mighty dollar.

As a grown woman, I can see how detrimental these plastic toys can be.

Look at the royal fuck-up of Mattel’s Barbie: I Can Be A Computer Engineer. At first you’re like, yay Barbie is doing something challenging. Then you read the book and you realize, Barbie has a cool title, but still needs the help of men to do her own job.

This is Mattel’s weak attempt to increase the number of girls interested in the science and STEM fields.

According to a report by the U.S. Department of Commerce, only a seventh of all engineers are female, and women hold just 27 percent of all computer science jobs.

Thankfully the Internet came through with the #FeministHackerBarbie campaign.

There’s even a website dedicated to where you can rewrite the story using pages from the original book. Let the snark commence!

Yet even with all of Barbie’s flaws she was my first ‘feminist’ icon.

Free-play was important for me growing up. I would spend hours coming up with my own zany story lines with my twin brother and friends. Creative businesswoman, a coven of powerful witches, or a horse wrangler…these were the first women I wanted to be.

As a young girl of color, finding tangible idols was difficult. My mother tried her hardest to make sure I own diverse dolls. She would search high and low for dolls of color. My Scary Spice doll was one of my prize possessions because not only was she my favorite Spice Girl, she looked liked me, and showed me all the different things I could be when I grow up.

Everyone has a different idea on how we can encourage girls to become strong, successful, smart women.

There are advocates for the ‘average’ doll, for dolls with natural hair, female action figures, or dolls that promote critical thinking.

I’m all for tearing down gender specific toys. Growing up in a household with a brother meant sharing Hot Wheels, Crash Bandicoot, Lego’s, and GI Joe’s. We should end this idea of “girls” toys or “boys” toys. When you give children more choices outside of their binary, they grow-up to be imaginative, creative, and resourceful people.

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