Barbie and Redeeming Feminism
"If “Feminist” is described as wanting to empower women, then I am a staunch feminist."
Jill E. Barad
I just finished an incredible documentary on Hulu called “Tiny Shoulders: Rethinking Barbie”. If you have a Hulu account (or can get access to it), I would highly encourage you to go watch this RIGHT away. This documentary takes us on a journey of not only how Barbie came to be, who she has been and how she has evolved, but also gives us an inside view into the leadership and conversations happening at Mattel as they are implementing some rather drastic changes to the modern-day Barbie.
Watching this literally brought tears to my eyes as I watched the journey of Barbie, from creation to criticism to now, FINALLY, a new step forward of a Barbie doll in ALL different shapes and sizes (put me down for one “petite” AND “curvy”!). I am beyond overjoyed that not only has Mattel become aware of the problems associated with this toy and now they are taking actions to fix those problems and become better and more relevant to where culture is at today, but they also want to change the association of the very word “Barbie” from only meaning a stick thin, blond haired, perfect girl.
But looking past this exciting news and rebirth of what has recently been a highly debated (if not almost dying) brand, this documentary and the journey of “Barbie” spoke to me on a VERY deep level. The creators of the documentary took us behind the scenes as to WHY Barbie has looked the way she has for so long and what has influenced that. So often I hear people talking about the influence Barbie has on young children, however this documentary challenges us to consider the influence CULTURE has had on this doll.
In essence, Barbie has basically been a mirror, simply reflecting the driving message of the culture at the moment.
As cultural influences have changed, so did Barbie. What was first intended to be a young girls doll for simply “dressing up” and re-enacting being an adult (and being the first upgrade from “paper dolls” and “baby dolls”), soon became not only an influencer but a “role-model” of sorts for young girls everywhere. As the culture changed from women being stay at “home moms” to having careers and working side by side with men, so did the doll that young girls were playing with! They could now imagine and play at being not just an adult, but also a successful “working woman” from a young age. They could start dreaming dreams and imagining futures for them selves that would not have been possible before that!
To be honest, I am realizing there is SO much that I have today that is because of so many “feminist women” and the movements that they started that completely changed history. Without the “feminist movement”, I would not have the right to vote or the freedom to have a career. I would probably be nowhere close to being treated as an equal to men, and while things are still not 100% equal in every single area yet, I feel we have come SO far and so far in my own personal life I have not felt persecuted or mistreated because of my gender being female, and to me that is a WIN.
That being said, much like the brand of Barbie, the “feminism” movement has taken much criticism and I would argue even made some glaring mistakes as of late that need to be addressed.
At a certain point, Barbie began to feel like it was no longer empowering and encouraging women but was “pigeon-holing” and “shaming” women that did not fit into their stereo-type of “perceived perfection”. The brand began to take on great amounts of criticism and negativity, and suffered greatly because of this. Mothers started to only see the possible negative effects of Barbie, and people all around began to renounce or distance themselves from the brand.
This is also EXACTLY what has happened to the modern-day feminist movement!
Somehow “Feminism” has gone from saying “we want the freedom to do or be this” to saying “IF you are a true feminist you HAVE to do or be this”. It has gone from saying “women should have the right to a career” to “women SHOULD have a career and those that choose to stay at home should be shamed”. Instead of “women shouldn’t be forced to wear a bra (or constrictive/uncomfortable clothing)” it now seems to say, “real feminists absolutely DO NOT WEAR BRAS, YOU MUST BURN IT NOW!!!”. It cries, "Strong women wear pantsuits, not skirts or dresses!!!" To be honest it almost feels like the “feminist movement” has lost MOST of its femininity, or even shames those who strive to embrace it! Instead of celebrating everything a woman CAN be, the underlying push has almost to become more "manly" in this effort for equality. (I bet if you picture the "ultimate feminist" in your mind, she she has a short hair cut similar to a mans, dresses in manly slacks, and most definitely would never be romantically interested in the evil male kind. At least that is the ultimate extreme that I picture!)
Instead of being equal with men, it seems feminists either want to BE men (nearly) or even become SUPERIOR to men. Equality is not enough, now we need superiority! No wonder so many men are completely turned off by even the word "feminism"!
Instead of FREEING women to be whatever they want to be, their true selves, it is now simply enslaving them in a different way. And THIS is not a rhetoric or movement that I can get behind.
LIKE BARBIE, FEMINISM HAS TO CHANGE!!!
Like with almost all movements, the pendulum has swung TOO far in the opposite direction. We have a lot of work to do to get to a balanced, happy medium. But, I believe that also like Barbie, Feminism CAN and DESPERATELY NEEDS to be redeemed. It is not going to happen overnight, but it CAN happen, and WOMEN have to make it happen. If you watch this documentary, you will see that almost ALL of the leadership at Mattel is currently women. I was actually blown away watching HOW these women conversed, and how they approached and dealt with this incredibly tough change they knew needed to happen within the company and to the brand. These women were painfully aware of the negativity associated with Barbie, and with the mistakes that had been made, and they were NOT afraid to admit them. But they also had a DEEP love and respect for the positive role that Barbie had played in history as well as a deep awareness of the role Barbie had played in their own childhood development.
To be honest, I myself can look back and see ALL the positive things that Barbie was to me. Playing “Barbies” was where I drove my first car, went on my first date, got married and had and “nurtured” children. It was the first time I discovered how much I LOVED to set up a household, to decorate, and to organize (which I know do for a professional living) all my dolls and their homes. It was where I bonded with friends and my younger sister and (even my mother as I played with the Barbie dolls she had saved from her childhood), and most of my childhood was spent in our playroom setting up houses and towns and “businesses” and going on dates with the neighbor boys G.I. Joes! I remember re-enacting so many careers, from teacher to veterinarian to first woman president! Me and my Barbies could BE and DO anything we could imagine, and I can honestly say I believe that time of play and discovery is what set me on the journey to become who I am today! If I am completely honest, I don’t remember a single time as a child where I felt bad or shamed for NOT looking like Barbie, but perhaps that’s because being blonde and white, looking like Barbie when I grew up wasn’t completely unrealistic to me. I know that everyone is different, but I would say that my experience with Barbie products was 99% positive. It was only as I grew up that I too began to question what this doll might be communicating to some girls about their body expectations, although “Barbie” is a pretty miniscule thing to focus on when it seemed that every magazine and tv show or movie was sending a MUCH louder message on how I should look! To be honest, if I have daughters one day I will definitely buy them their own Barbie dolls if that is something they show interest in. But I digress.
So I watched HOW these women approached this problem and searched for a solution. First, they knew they were all connected with their love and respect for “Barbie” and the brand. Second, they recognized that in order to stay relevant and continue influencing in a positive way, the brand now NEEDED to change. HOW to change was the difficult issue, but because these women all had a common goal they were driven to find the right change TOGETHER. They started, of course, with respectful, open and honest dialog. They disagreed with each other at times, but they didn’t yell or fight or put down each other in any way. They did not fight EACH OTHER, but fought TOGETHER to find a resolution. They had to dig DEEP and rediscover WHAT this brand was truly about, and they had to AGREE on the message they were going to be sharing moving forward. They assessed the risks and the backlash and the arguments that might come from this change, they brainstormed how to best deal with those, and then they bravely chose to move forward TOGETHER.
Ladies and Ladies, THIS IS WHAT WE NEED TO DO. We NEED to AGREE on what feminism IS and what it is NOT, and then we need to start changing our brand. As a woman, I SHOULD be a feminist! All women (and even men) who believe in empowering women SHOULD be able to say they are feminists! Yet there are so many messages from “feminism” today that I (and MANY people) fundamentally disagree with because the movement as a whole has gotten way off track and lost its way.
First off, being treated “equal” to a man does NOT mean being treated “exactly the same” as a man. We can approach issues with equal amounts of respect, while still recognizing that there ARE differences between men and women (such as with fitness standards), and we can embrace and even celebrate those differences. Often times our strengths even perfectly compliment the weaknesses of the opposite sex. We must admit that we not only NEED each other, but we are better and stronger when we work together.
Second, we need to STOP saying “you MUST” and start saying “you CAN”. Fighting for the RIGHT to do something does not mean everyone HAS to do that thing!!! It means that now everyone has the ability to do that thing IF THEY SO CHOOSE. Women should have the right to work, but be able to choose to be a homemaker if that is what they want without being shamed. Actually, we need to STOP SHAMING ALL TOGETHER. It does not help, it doesn’t bring about change, and it only moves us backwards from the common goals we all have. We can respectfully disagree, we can say “I feel strongly that this is the WISE way to do things”, but we MUST stop saying you are WRONG, your opinion is irrelevant, I need to shut you up. We MUST learn to listen to one another with empathy, then figuratively join hands over what we have in common and move forward together. Only when we are unified and stand strong together can we achieve our goals.
Third, abortion is not about “women’s” rights. In order to make a baby, there are two parties involved, a man and a women, and the conceived baby makes it three. Three bodies, three humans with rights that need to be taken into consideration in the decision of an abortion. We NEED to stop saying this is only a woman’s body and only the woman’s choice, because that is false. Whether you believe abortions should be LEGAL or not is a WHOLE different topic and we can agree to disagree, that is simply how politics work, but we need to stop associating abortion with feminism and women’s rights. It is a completely different topic than women having equal pay, access to needed health care or birth control, or the ability to go to the moon or run for president. If we want EVERYONE to be able to say they are a “feminist”, then this topic needs to be a completely different conversation.
Lastly, I want to live in a world where men do NOT define us women, but I also want to live in a world where women stop LETTING men define us. We need to first make the change of our OWN mindset and stop worrying how men will perceive us or if they will approve of us. We need to stop basing our self-worth off of men’s approval (or really any one's approval). No other person can give us “self-worth” or fulfillment, only you (and God) can find that for yourself. So stop asking if “that guy” will like your outfit, and ask if YOU like it and feel confident in it. Stop trying to become the girl you think that guy wants and become who YOU want to be. Confidence in who you are and being secure in yourself will get you a million times farther in life that trying to be everything to everyone you want to impress. Learn who you are and who you are not. Sure, dye your hair a crazy color or cut it short as you explore who you are, but do it for yourself, not for someone else or to prove something. And once you realize who you are, don’t compromise yourself or your values to make yourself more appealing to anyone. Do what you think is wise and right and what brings YOU true joy and fulfillment.
Feminism must become about empowering women to be the best and fullest version that they can be, and about creating a culture and environment that helps women THRIVE and achieve these goals. It is not a movement about what women should or shouldn’t wear. It should NOT be a movement about women becoming more “masculine”, or just a tough as men. It is about creating an environment where we do not need to PROVE to anyone that we are just as strong (driven, tough, smart, ect.) as our men counterparts, but we simply ARE who we want to be and are created to be. I am created to be a white, blond, curvy woman who loves organizing, cleaning, running a household, and nurturing children. I can be stupid at times and also extremely intelligent. Some days I am driven and some I am lazy. Some days I am tough and others I am extremely weak and admit to needing help. I am not just one thing, and I think I should be allowed to be ALL things. Because I am human. When it comes down to it, this is an issue of human rights. We must allow each other to be broken and emotional and successful and happy and smart and lazy. We must embrace that being human means making mistakes. It means being complex and ever changing, and most of all it means needing grace. Every single one of us needs grace and forgiveness, and because of this, every single one of us also needs to SHOW grace and forgiveness to one another.
So, I will fight not just for female rights but basic human rights. I will fight FOR the movement of feminism, and to help it change to what it needs to be. I hope that one day my daughters AND sons will be able to proudly say they are “feminists” and will stand up for the equal rights of women everywhere. I hope my daughters will have just as many opportunities to pursue their dreams as my sons do. I hope my daughters will not feel ashamed of their bodies or the level of femininity they choose but will embrace these things and learn to LOVE them! I hope they will live in a world where they can choose to have a career or children or both without shame! I hope they will wear as much or as little makeup that makes them feel pretty and confident, and no one will ridicule them for it. I want a world where my children are not “body shamed” but are encouraged to be the HEALTHIEST version of themselves that they can be (whatever that looks like!!!). It is not WRONG to have a body shape that is different than that of the classic “Barbie”, but it is also not wrong to want be the fittest and healthiest (physically and mentally) version that YOU can be.
If you ask me, I think the Barbie brand is well on its way towards redemption. With these new changes, I feel that this is a brand that is once again inspiring young girls and women alike to be all they dream they can be. This is now a brand that I feel I can get behind and fully support. My hope is that soon, I can say the same about the feminism movement as well.
“What is powerful is little girls acting out their dreams, it (Barbie) isn’t just a piece of plastic.” Ruth Handler (Barbie’s creator)
What is even more powerful is if those same little girls have the freedom and opportunity to grow up to be those dreams.
This is the feminism I believe in. This is the Feminism I will fight for.
Just please don't make me wear a vagina hat to prove it...
Can you get through this video without tearing up? I couldn't.... Also, I think ALL men's sports teams should be coached by little girls from now on!!! Knee's up like a unicorn!
Did you hear about Barbie’s partnership with TINKER to help girl learn the basics of coding?