In Praise of Barbie

This is a guest post from Mairi Campbell-Jack; a poet who lives in Edinburgh with her daughter. Mairi blogs poetry at A Lump In The Throat and tweets as @lumpinthethroat. The post originally appeared on DorkyMum.

Being a good “feminist”, when my daughter was born three and a half years ago I was determined to bring her up in the feminist mould. Her father and I tried our hardest not to gender her. She was dressed in blues, greens and oranges. We made sure she had toys that were appropriate to both genders, and a range of books that weren’t just about glittery princess ballerina bunnies.

Then comes nursery, and contact with other girls. She explodes into a deep and long love affair with all things pink. She tells me she is not pretty unless her hair is in a bobble. Last month she asked me why I wasn’t beautiful, and on further questioning explained to me that I wasn’t wearing a skirt. Then two weeks ago I finally gave in. At her nursery fair she was very keen to get a hideous “singing lady” which turned out to be some kind of Bratz doll and, believe me, compared to that doll five second hand Barbies or Barbie-likes for £1 was much more acceptable.

I’m afraid to admit, that of all the toys I have purchased her, those ultimate anti-feminist icons have been the best. Why? She used to get up early. Very early. For the first six months of working after maternity leave I was regularly up at 4.30 am. Recently I have made it to 6 or 6.30am before she rushes through, demanding that I get up immediately and make her breakfast… until I wearily give in and get out my warm bed to do so. How has Barbie changed my life? She now gets up and plays with her dolls. She plays quietly – sometimes until 7.30am! She never did this before, because she hadn’t been allowed a toy that she loved. Really loved, loved so much she wanted to be with it more than with me. At the end of the day, I was forcing my own political beliefs on my daughter and not letting her follow her own interests and her own paths.

I realised that my child does not grow up in a vacuum, and if I try to mould her to my world view then I am not letting her be herself or discover things for herself either, and we all know what lies down that road – rebellion – that’s how Artists end up with children who become Accountants. It’s also not about feminism, which, to my mind anyway, is less about telling women or young girls how to behave or what to be (no matter how left-wing your ideas are) and more about letting them make their own choices and mistakes.

This isn’t to say that just because I’m getting more sleep I suddenly think Barbie is a good role model, either boys or girls. Or that I have given up hoping to teach my daughter how to become a strong and confident woman. I’ve just decided to do it a different way, through my actions rather than consumerism. By surrounding my daughter with other strong and confident women, and men who know how to respect them (and do). As well as people who generally have bodies in realistic proportions.

It is not a bad or unrealistic thing to try to raise a feminist child, whether they are male or female, but to constantly fight the world by trying to push them down a path that is not yet theirs to even tread lies frustration. She’s only 3 and a half, she has plenty of time to discover it.

This entry was posted in Body Image and Self Esteem, Gender Diversity, Uncategorized and tagged , , . Bookmark the permalink.

2 Responses to In Praise of Barbie

  1. samanti says:

    Biggest Crock of…….who markets the Barbie doll? The capitalist class market pink toys and barbies in the same way that it markets all other personal freedoms, insecurities and sex positive messages because trust me, if the imperative wasn’t profit at any cost no one would bother. This sort of thinking makes women both commodities and consumers whilst men remain as always just consumers.

  2. barbielea says:

    Really interesting post. Actually, I collect Barbies but as I have a son rather than a daughter and I was never a little pink princess myself, I have always felt ill- qualified to make any sort of judgements, good or bad, of Barbie as a childrens’ plaything. However, whilst blog surfing I regularly come across posts by anti-pink parents who want their daughters to grow up feminist but think nothing of labelling Barbie in the worst way. I don’t think that calling women (or woman-shaped dolls) who wear makeup and minidresses stupid sluts, for instance, is very feminist. At the end of the day, Barbie is just a piece of plastic and I have also read some very interesting blogs by parents who gently subvert the Mattel message to suit their purposes through structured play and modding – Kristl Smith-Tyler’s “how to play with Barbies” being a great example. I love this proactive and creative approach to a difficult issue – its worth checking out. Best wishes.

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