Is President Barbie A Feminist Ideal?
Two weeks ago, Mike wrote about the latest from Mattel’s Barbie collection: Computer Engineering Barbie. He lamented, rightfully so, the head-to-toe pink accessories, including a hot pink laptop. (Because, let’s be honest, girls can only write in C++ with a fuchsia computer).
Today, I read that the White House Project, who had teamed up with Mattel in 2000 to launch President Barbie, has once again partnered with the company to promote Computer Engineering Barbie, while simultaneously advocating for national recognition of women’s issues. On the White House Project’s website, President Marie Wilson writes:
“Through Barbie, and its ‘I Can Be’ President Barbie, little girls have had the opportunity to lead the country from their living rooms and bedrooms, or get out their Barbie and Ken dolls and call a joint session of Congress. We at The White House Project are thrilled to be partnering with Barbie as she celebrates her 125th career and continues to inspire girls of all ages to follow their dreams.”
Is this partnership problematic? Barbie is never popular among feminist circles, due to unrealistic body expectations, race issues, and stereotypes of girls’ activities. And let’s not forget that while Barbie first ran for president in 2000, eight years earlier she was skipping math class to go to the mall. (“Math class is tough,” TeenTalking Barbierepeated. “Let’s go shopping!”) And furthermore, what sort of mixed messages is President Barbie sending? Girls can run for office, provided they fit a mainstream patriarchal view of beauty, and spent their formative years gossiping on pink cell phones about Ken dolls?
And who among us can really say, as Marie Wilson writes, that they’ve been inspiredby Barbie dolls? Entertained, fine, but inspired? The White House Project does a lot of good as far as promoting women’s leadership, but is their message diluted by the addition of Barbie to the mix?
On the other hand, Barbie continues to be one of the most popular children’s products out there, and global sales of the doll rose 12% last quarter. Is this part of the ‘if you can’t beat ‘em, join ‘em’ mentality? And if so, is it harmful for girls and feminism?