Well, not really....a critical (and hopefully witty and humorous) view of gender,
race, and pop culture.

Tuesday, October 2, 2007

“What Should We Do to Become Glamorous”-Island Princess Barbie

Before I entered this class, I had never really thought about how gender is everywhere. As a boy, I always just accepted that it was the "normal" thing to receive gifts such as GI Joes, fully loaded with a heavy 'laser' cannon, fire storm blaster, 3 pulse missiles, flame blaster, flame projectile, power cutter saw, blaster, and a bazillion other weapons that are essential if I wanted to free the world from evil. Now, after spending a few weeks learning about gender, I realize that I have been subject to genderization my whole life. When I was given this assignment to study genderization in toys, I figured it would be interesting to write about the different toys from my childhood that I now realize have been genderized…that's until I received notice that I'm not writing about toys for myself, but for a 7 year old named Stephanie who enjoys playing Nintendo, drawing pictures on her Etch A Sketch and Lite Brite, and playing with dolls, or more specifically, Barbie dolls. Now things are getting interesting…not only do I have to write about toys meant for the opposite sex, I apparently have to analyze what messages they send, how they teach gender, what they symbolize, and how they relate to adulthood. In short, I actually have to think about toys instead of just assuming that boys play with toys that kill things and girls play with toys that clean and make food. So how do I plan to do this? Well, I could just sit here at my computer and click around Amazon.com for some ideas, never leaving sight of the Jets game and not have to venture into "girl world", or I could suck it up and go to Toys "R" Us and get a more hands on look at the toys. Decisions, decisions… As tempting as the first method was, and even though I expected to walk into "girl world" and be surrounded by more pink then I could ever imagine, along with doll dresses of every shape and color (with an emphasis on glamour, like, oh my god!), cleaning toys, and more baby dolls (dressed in pink, of course) than one could ever dream of playing with, I chose the latter.

When I arrived, I hesitantly headed directly for girl world, and what I found didn't surprise me, it frightened me. There were more shades of pink than I ever knew existed. Surprisingly, not every Barbie I came across had blonde hair as I had expected, but a good majority did. As I was strolling down Barbie Lane, I noticed one that had one of those "Try me, I sing!" stickers on it. Being unable to restrain my inner child, I of course had to push the button so it made noise. What I heard next, however, was so…perfect…for this assignment, that I instantly took note of it. As stated by Island Princess Barbie, "What Should We Do to Become Glamorous???". Wow. Only 2 minutes into my adventure, and I already have the perfect title for my post.

A few steps further down Barbie Lane, I discovered my next victim---MyScene Juicy Bling: Kennedy. Oh good lord did this thing frighten me. Fully decked out with more makeup on her face then a Vegas showgirl, diamond "bling", necklace and bracelet "that we can share!", cell phone (so she's never out of touch with glam world), and a large, pink, flower in her hair, "Juicy Bling Kennedy" gave me a lot to work with. After I got over my initial shock, I got down to business. First question I asked myself: what message is this toy sending? Well, just look at her! Diamond "bling", cell phone, more jewelry than a Tiffany's catalogue. It is obvious from just one look at this product that having money, and lots of it, is required to be beautiful. And it doesn't stop there. Girls also apparently need makeup (evidently lots and lots of makeup), accessories, and hair that takes two days to do (not to mention the large, pink, hair flower thing). Based on this description, it's obvious that this doll isn't aimed at the younger part of the population, but at the older children who have probably already begun using makeup, right? Guess again. The recommended age for this product: 6-10 years old. Apparently Mattel thinks it's a good idea for 6-10 year olds to begin becoming "glam" and slapping on the makeup 6 inches thick. This is especially frightening, because, as stated by Susan Jane Gilman, "…dolls often give children their first lessons in what society considers valuable-and beautiful" (74). Now, I'm no parent, but if my daughter tried to go to school looking like that, there would be an immediate father-daughter talk.

When I went to put this makeup slathered, "blinged" out doll back on the shelf, I came across the next target of my fury. Make that targets. It was the Barbie I Can Be… collection. This wonderful little array of Barbie dolls (and don't forget the accessories) shows kids that even Barbie goes out and gets a job, so you should too! This is fantastic, Ms. Gilman will finally get her wish and have a Barbie doll that teaches value by showing kids that girls, not just boys, have a spot in the workforce. Finally a Barbie with…value! Wait, what's that? I'm wrong? Oh, silly me…how could I get so excited without even looking at what Barbie can be? Let's see…Barbie can be a cake baker, a baby doctor, or a baby photographer. Whoa, did I get ahead of myself on this one! Yes, I am correct that this collection shows girls the value of getting a job, but that's about where the value in this assortment of dolls ends. It's true Barbie now has a job, but look at the jobs she has…a baker and two jobs that involve babies. Barbie is finally working outside of the townhouse, but apparently, since she's a girl, she has to be working with either kids or cooking food. If this doesn't teach the point that a woman is meant to be domestic, I don't now what else does. This Barbie collection clearly shows that even though a girl can have a job, she should not abandon her role as a care giver to children or as head chef of the family. As James Lull states, "…the most potent effect of mass media is how they subtly influence their audiences social roles and routine personal activities" (62). Even though a girl may not want to work with children or cooking, Barbie sends the message that girls should grow up to fulfill their genderized roles as caretakers or preparers of food.

Ok, I'm out of this place. 2 pages of notes, 3 Barbies, and 4 pounds of Halloween candy later (don't ask…), I decided to head home (since Toys "R" Us was closing and about to kick me out) for my last piece of research. Just in case Stephanie has a brother, I checked the Toys "R" Us website to find a gender neutral game that the both of them can play. After browsing though the site, I finally found a gender neutral toy: Connect 4. To find this game, I had to click on the special category for "both" sexes. This really irked me…why are toys broken down by sex on the website? Sure more girls than boys play with Barbies, and I'm sure more boys than girls play with GI Joes, but does that mean that no boys play with Barbie (even when "play" means ripping the heads off), and does this mean that no girls play with GI Joes (I hear Ken can be a wimp sometimes)? I'm sure some do. And just as a side note, why does Toys "R" Us recommend Connect 4 for ages 7-12? I know I personally still enjoy a game of connect 4, yet according to Toys "R" Us I'm too old to enjoy it. We'll talk about ageism another time.

So, what have I learned from this journey through Barbie World? Well, apparently to be successful, one must be "glam": wear lots of jewelry and have more money than you need. Also, toy manufacturers begin marketing toys to girls at a young age that teach that a woman's role in life always involves taking care of children and cooking, regardless of if she's at home or at work. Unfortunately, because these ideas are being thrown at children at such a young age, it tends to stick with them through adulthood. Henley and Freeman argue that women, and I would argue boys and girls as well, that "…visual status reminders permeate her environment. As she moves through the day, she absorbs many variations of the same status theme, whether or not she is aware or it" (84).

Well my friends, that's all for today!

Feel free to leave comments, though donations and baked goods are also acceptable forms of praise…


Connect 4. Photograph. Toys “R” Us. 2007. 2 Oct. 2007 http://trus.imageg.net/‌graphics/‌product_images/‌pTRU1-2788727reg.gif.

Gilman, Susan Jane. “klaus barbie, and other dolls i’d like to see.” Learning Gender: 72-75.
Henley, Nancy, and Jo Freeman. “The Sexual Politics of Interpersonal Behavior.” Learning Gender 5th ser.: 84-93.

Lull, James. “Hegemony.” Media, Communication, Culture: A Global Approach (1995). Rpt. in Gender, Race, and Class in Media: A Text-Reader. Ed. Gail Dines and Jean M Humez. 2nd ed. Thousand Oaks: Sage, 2003. 61-66.