a curious Yankee in Europe's court

blog about living in Europe, and Italy

Today’s opinion pick: “Dumb blonde — or diehard feminist?”

Posted on the December 19th, 2008

The object of the question above is Barbie, the doll. The inquiry is the focus of a feature in today’s Guardian. As the title blurb says, Barbie will celebrate her 50th birthday next year. It goes on to ask: Should women be celebrating this anniversary – or turning their backs in disgust on one of the world’s most popular dolls?

The pro Barbie position is written by Moira Redmond. Excerpt:

When it comes to careers, Barbie is also a brilliant role model. She’s been a doctor, a vet, a palaeontologist, an astronaut, a firefighter, a pop singer, a teacher and a film star. She has even been a presidential candidate. Here are some things I defy you to imagine Barbie doing: housework; sucking up to men; cowering; being bullied or intimidated; being sexually harassed.

The rebuttal is written by Julie Bindel. Excerpt:

The marketing ploys for the doll have been staggeringly cynical. For instance, early on, Barbie was promoted as a teaching aid to help young girls grow up and get their man, by marketers worried that parents might not warm to such a sexualised plaything. Feminists went berserk and accused the manufacturers at the 1972 toy fair in New York of encouraging girls “to see themselves as mannequins, sex objects or housekeepers.”

There is even a syndrome named after the doll. Someone afflicted with “Barbie syndrome” strives for an unrealistic body type. If Barbie was life-size, she’d measure 36-18-33, stand 5ft 9in and weigh 7st 12lb – 35lbs underweight for a woman that height. A group of scholars once worked out that the likelihood of having Barbie’s body shape is one in 100,000.

I chose two paragraphs for the rebuttal as opposed to only one for the endorsement, as you see. Does this indicate my own perspective? You betcha. It may also spring  from a sense of pique — I never had a Barbie!! (sob)

Seriously, I do think the more important factor is that little girls themselves get to choose their own toys. Many are continuing to choose Barbie, yes. But, as I’ve discovered, many little girls are choosing another. The news (to me)  came from my own impromptu Q&A with an eight-year-old houseguest one morning last February — see here.

So –my  last word — I say, may the various marketers battle each other to the death, but may it be the little girls who always win.

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Is Barbie toast?

Posted on the February 20th, 2008


Megan and her Webkinz “Henry”

Megan and her Webkinz “Henry”

Being classically blonde, with a perfect figure and limitless wardrobe just isn’t enough anymore, apparently, if you’re a doll (literally speaking).

According to an article in yesterday’s Washington Post, the affections of little girls are turning more and more these days to some virtual pets (with stuffed, plush real life doppelgangers) by the name of Webkinz (“A Virtual Popularity Contest – In the Online Playground, Barbie’s Doing the Chasing” by Annys Shin, Feb 19, 2008).

Last year the sales of Barbie doll products fell 15 percent, the article states, and the competition from Webkinz had something to do with that. The stuffed animals are marketed with their own digital “Webkinz World” where their owners can go online and play games, pretend shop and spend, and interact in cyberspace with friends.

What does this have to do with Barbie? Excerpt from the article:

“When you’re spending a lot of time [on Webkinz], you’re not spending four hours on Barbie dolls,” said Gerrick Johnson, a toy industry analyst with BMO Capital Markets.

As it happens this week we have house guests and one of them is Megan, an eight-year-old girl. When I mentioned the WaPo article and Webkinz to her parents during breakfast today, Megan’s face lit up as if it were the sun itself.

“Do you want to see Henry?” she squealed, and off she dashed to the bedroom, to return with one of the plush ones (see photo above).

Later I decided to do a little market research of my own so I asked Megan a few questions, the first one being if she had a Barbie doll.

“I have lots of Barbies but I never play with them,” she said, hugging “Henry” the Webkinz.


“She’s boring.”

Uh oh.

To read an article with more information about Webkinz and other virtual worlds now online for children , see a 2007 article from the New York Daily News here (“Webkinz: Big money lessons for little kids” by Elizabeth Lazarowitz).

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