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Blaming Barbie doesn’t work

Submitted by on Wednesday, 4 March 2009 4 Comments
barbieConfession: I love Barbie.

When I was a kid, my friends and I would play for hours, creating elaborate houses and villages. Set-up time actually took longer than play.

I have two dozen or so pristine in-the-box Barbies in the garage. Most are athletes or other nontraditional jobs such as pilots, though a few are good old-fashioned fluffy fuchsia. If it didn't cost $60, I'd add the Carol Burnett "Went With The Wind" doll to the collection. That sketch was great comedy, and it inspired me to read the book.

Used to be, I couldn't toy shop without lingering in the Barbie aisle to see the latest. I've given that up since the guys, preferring to flee quickly from all toys lest my head or my debit card explode.

Despite all that, I think I turned out sort of OK. Confused most days, but I can't blame that on Barbie.

That's why I chuckled when I heard that a West Virginia legislator had introduced a bill to ban Barbie back home.

Fashion dolls "promote or influence girls to place an undue importance on physical beauty to the detriment of their intellectual and emotional development," Democrat Jeff Eldridge believes.

Kids need to know that "beauty from the inside" is just as important as outer beauty, he told The Charleston, W.Va., Gazette.

Welcome to the Barbie-pink band wagon, Delegate Eldridge. It's been rolling for at least three decades. You're a little late to the game. Or maybe it's just a case of attention-grabbing as slutty as Barbie is accused of looking.

Whatever the reason you've decided to focus on a plaything in a state that's shedding hundreds of jobs a day, you're not standing for a good and noble cause. Instead, you're creating a huge misdirect.

You can ban Barbie, burn the last of the Bratz and outlaw emblazoning "I'm hot" on clothing for anyone under 18. It will have no impact on the "undue importance on physical beauty to the detriment of their intellectual and emotional development."

An inanimate object doesn't create those problems. A mixed-up society does. But even blaming it on society is too simplistic. Focus in more tightly, on parents who have more sway than an 11 1/2-inch hunk of plastic.

Easy for me to say because I have two boys, you're thinking. Except the parents of sons have to do their part as well, teaching them from the start to value women.

If Eldridge's point is partly that women are under-valued, he got that much right.

We make less than men and we work more hours when you combine home and office. We've never risen any higher than No. 3 in the nation politically, and it took until this year for women to make up a majority in any state legislative body in the country. Those who have kids usually face at least a small degree of marginalization professionally.

It's almost as bad for women who make a different choice, opting to not hold jobs outside the home.

Actually, no matter which path a woman chooses, one side or the other is going to throw rocks. A stay-at-home mom isn't using her full potential. A working mom is cheating her kids. Women who choose not to have children draw questioning looks as well.

Would that be any different had I not grown up playing with Barbie? I seriously doubt it.

A generation after the first alleged bra burning - I say "alleged" because it never actually happened - we remain confused. We've spent 30 years telling girls they can be whatever they want, but we don't really mean it. And heaven help the woman who wants to be more than one of those things, who wants to climb out a social box more confining than the one Barbie's shipped in.

I bake cakes and I follow baseball. I love my family and my profession. I read Tom Clancy and Margaret Mitchell. I'm just as likely to stay up too late writing as I am to burn the midnight oil over a database.

Until those seeming contradictions cease to draw even a raised eyebrow's amount of interest, all the Barbie bans in the world aren't going to help.

Copyright 2009 Debra Legg. All rights reserved.

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4 Comments »

  • Rob Miracle said:

    Two points to make.

    1. Mattel has done a good job over the years presenting Barbie in many different roles to show that women are versatile just as you mentioned with the Pilot Barbie and the other non-traditional ones. If I’m not mistaken there are plenty of “Business” and “Doctor” Barbies out there. Yes, she is well a symbol of beauty, but the fact that you can get her in good working roles shows more.

    2. If inner beauty and emotional development are so important, then why is there such fat prejudice in this country. Everyone diet pills this and exercise programs that and the whole time its promoting outer beauty. Loosing your hair? Got a drug or spray paint for that? Want those rock hard 6-pack abs? Play on this machine hang out with bikini models (or play on the machine and become the bikini model). Our society is stuck on outer beauty. You don’t see ugly women on “The Bachelor” nor will fat bald guys make it on the Bachelorette.

    And Barbie isn’t to blame…..

  • Debra said:

    Excellent points, Rob!

    Following the example of the Barbie bill, let’s start legislating against everything you mentioned in No. 2. It’ll fill up reams of code books, but still won’t accomplish anything. Meanwhile, real issues will be ignored.

    Not that this isn’t a real issues. But it is one that laws aren’t going to change.

  • coffee said:

    WV legislators had to realize proposing a Barbie ban would cause a big media stir but, then again, maybe this was strategic…

  • Debra said:

    That thought had occurred to me, too. Strategic in an “I’ll do anything for attention” type of way. :)