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Barbie Dolls and Bratz – Which Is More Progressive?

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    Since the emergence of the Barbie doll in 1959, Barbie has been a populous choice among young children, and more specifically young girls because of its monopolization of the toy market. Barbie is a doll that has been outwardly controversial and debated upon for years and most likely will be for many years to come. The idea of the Barbie doll is a toy for which young girls model themselves after and aspire to be like when they mature and grow up. DuCille states, “more than simple instruments of pleasure and amusement, toys and games play crucial roles in helping children determine what is valuable in and around them.

    Dolls in particular invite children to replicate them, to imagine themselves in their dolls’ images” (268). In terms of the occupations that Barbie holds, they have become much more progressive since the time of second wave feminism. Now, within the third wave time period Barbie’s occupations have expanded and have entered the men’s work domain. In comparison to other young girls’ toys and the occupations that they embrace, Barbie represents progressive and forward thinking jobs for young women. When comparing Barbie to her counterpart, Bratz dolls, it becomes apparent as to who is the more transgressive doll.

    Bratz dolls do not hold many job titles; in fact the only occupation in their name is to a pop star. So, comparatively, Barbie is more progressive in the message she sends out to young girls than her counterpart Bratz dolls in the career department. However, when Barbie stands alone, with no one to compare her with, is she still progressive in nature? Should parents be allowing their children to play with a toy, which may be progressive when linking her with Bratz dolls, but when she is not being compared, she falls much into the regressive realm that Bratz dolls do?

    This paper will assess the progression Barbie has made in terms of occupations since second wave feminism to now third wave while in comparison to Bratz dolls, while also suggesting that this progression may just appear when Barbie is being compared, but when she is on her own does this positive image still exist? This paper will also discuss how other toy options for girls are situated within Toys “R” Us and lastly will examine parents and their right to have control over what their child plays and interacts with.

    The “I can be” Barbie doll line’s premise is being able to imagine future careers through Barbie. This line hopes to inspire young girls to imagine a big range of possible careers. In the initial stages of the “I can be” line, Barbie is a fashion model in the sixties. Barbie presented at this time as a fashion model is wearing a one-piece outfit with her legs and arms as well as her top half, above her breasts completely exposed. She is at the gaze of many, not only the photographer but also to the public as she is a fashion model.

    This occupation places Barbie as a spectacle to be looked at but offers no further substance to the career choice. According to the Barbie Media webpage, other careers offered at this time include fashion editor, ballerina, ice skater, Miss America, Aerobics instructor and many more which place women in their sphere of gender ‘appropriate’ careers (barbiemedia. com). Many of these careers primary focus is on fashion or what Barbie is wearing, and little emphasis placed on what their career actually entails.

    These jobs present during second wave feminism reflect stereotypical careers for women and do not allow for Barbie to explore jobs, which do not primarily focus on fashion. Moving into the third wave time period, Barbie envelops careers, which were previously and still are today dominated by men. Recently, the Barbie “I can be” line launched Barbie architect. This career showcases Barbie in a conservative dress, complete with a jacket overtop, a hard hat, blueprints of her project and a dream house to go along with the rest of the ensemble.

    This is clearly a progressive step in the “I can be” line as Barbie is placed in the stereotypical sphere of men’s work. Another progressive Barbie, who stems from the “I can be” line, is Presidential Barbie. This is arguably the most progressive Barbie has ever been. There have been multiple Presidential Barbie’s all within third wave time period, however this paper focusing on the recent 2012 Presidential Barbie. Again, this Barbie is dressed conservatively, in a full pink suit, with the skirt landing below her knees and a jacket to cover up much of her kin. This Barbie also comes equipped with platform shoes, which allow her to stand on her own for the first time in fifty-three years. This demonstrates independence along with leadership, as she does not need someone to hold her up. The fact that she is running for President and in doing so has stability, speaks volumes to the kind of women this Barbie is trying to portray. Presidential Barbie has a platform in which she stands for which she titles the 5 ‘B’s’. They include, ‘B’ a dreamer, ‘B’ creative, ‘B’ informed, ‘B’ confident, and lastly ‘B’ involved.

    Barbie’s platform illustrates positive messages for young girls and their futures. Another progressive aspect of Presidential Barbie is that the creator, Mattel created this new doll in a partnership with The White House Project. The mission of The White House Project is to, “ignite the leadership of women in business along with politics” (thewhitehouseproject. org). The fact that Presidential Barbie works with an actual project that aims at promoting women for male-dominated careers in business and in politics lends itself most definitely to Barbie as a progressive icon.

    Although this may not resonate with young girls who play with Barbie, it is the responsibility of the parent to be informed of such strides that Barbie is making. Other Barbie careers, which are seen to be progressive during third wave, are a Unicef Ambassador, a business executive, a computer engineer and a dentist (barbiemedia. com). After examining Barbie’s progressiveness since second wave in terms of the occupations she holds, she looks like a much more viable option for young girls than her counterpart, Bratz dolls.

    Bratz are pop stars, which relish in makeup and hit up the coolest nightclubs night after night. To suggest they do more would be to falsify the activities of Bratz dolls. Bratz dolls, simply put exist to party. When compared to Barbie, they are seemingly regressive and do not portray positive messages for young girls. However, Barbie’s power lies in the fact that Barbie appeals to little girls like very few other toys do. Whatever Barbie does, she brings it into the sphere of women. She holds the power to make things and in this case, careers seem natural to young girls.

    Although she is unattainable in the looks and body department, with the forward thinking of the “I can be” line, there are attainable careers, with which every young girl can aspire to be one day. Although the “I can be” line still has job occupations such as ballerina, fashion designer, baby sitter, flight attendant and many more which keep women in the sphere of women-dominated jobs, those careers must stay present so that young girls who do aspire to become these things are not scrutinized for their career choices.

    However, now instead of solely women-dominated careers, Barbie invites herself into the male-dominated sphere and offers girls’ choice and new options, which play a huge role as when compared to Barbie’s correspondent – Bratz dolls. When Barbie is not being compared to other dolls that are available for young girls, such as Bratz dolls, is Barbie and her new careers still progressive? With Presidential Barbie, her platform is inspiring and sends an optimistic message to young girls.

    However, her aggressively pink outfit and platform shoes keep her femininity and allow her to remain in the sphere of women. So does she really break the barrier and move into the male-dominated sphere of work? This presents a double negative. On the one hand Presidential Barbie is a step in the right direction regarding her career choice, however the way she is presented in this career offers a problem. The fact that Barbie is running for President is undoubtedly progressive, however, she is “pink coated” with her clothing ensemble as Sue Stern mentions in her documentary Barbie Nation.

    This presents a double negative as Barbie, on the one hand is progressive as she is running for President, however in turn Barbie gets more feminine in her dress code as she is dressed in hard-hitting pink. Barbie gains some, but also loses some of that progressiveness as becoming more ‘pink’ can be seen as regressive, bringing her back to Barbie’s ‘pink’ look and in this case, her outfit actually involves more pink than many Barbie’s before her.

    So, with this Presidential Barbie, the audience and consumers of her gain as well as lose, which leaves the question of whether Barbie is progressive on her own when not being compared to other options for young girls that are on the market. With the question of whether or not Barbie is progressive or regressive when she stands alone or a mix of both presents society with another question, what else is there? The answer to that question is, not much. In analyzing Toys “R” Us, it became painfully apparent that there are very few options or young girls’ toys. Barbie’s, Bratz dolls, and Disney Princesses take up the majority of the space within Toys “R” Us. Upon entering the store, the consumer is presented with a Barbie wall to their immediate right instantly catching a young girls’ gaze within seconds of being in the toy store. To find options, which are limited in numbers, a consumer has to walk deep into the store where more Barbie’s, Bratz and Disney Princesses present themselves. Barbie took up four full walls; Bratz dolls took up one full wall along with Disney Princesses.

    The other options presented in Toys “R” Us for young girls in comparison with these three frontrunners took up a mere section of a wall or a small stand in the middle of an aisle. Young girls are overwhelmed with amount that Barbie, Disney Princesses and Bratz dolls provide that the other options take a backseat and quickly become of no interest to young girls. In other domains of Toys “R” Us, moving away from the toy section, Barbie reappears. She presents herself in the bike and scooter section branding her name on scooters and bikes.

    Barbie also appears in the party section, where young girls can have Barbie-themed birthdays with Barbie napkins, hats, streamers and more. Barbie is situated within Toys “R” Us, immediately at the front of the store, in the middle of the store, and even at the exit. Barbie completely monopolizes Toys “R” Us which, while a young consumer is roaming the store continuously is reinforced by Barbie and her power. By placing more Barbie products at the exit, it leaves the young consumer with the image of Barbie to last her until her next visit when this process again repeats itself.

    Therefore, although there are some other options present for young girls, bad or good, they are completely overshadowed by the frontrunners, Barbie, Bratz dolls and Disney Princesses. With the lack of options provided, and the lack of space in which they take up, parents are left with a decision; to bypass the monopolization and purchase the ‘other’ or to educate their children on these populous toys which will catch the eye of any young child. The perceived notion is that parents hold the power when it comes to determining what doll or toy is best for their child.

    However, many children gain access to toys, dolls, and even video games without parental consent. Whether it is at school during recess, at friends or cousin’s house, or simply watching it on TV or seeing them advertised in a magazine, children have access to toys regardless of their parents’ wishes. So instead of withholding Barbie’s, or Bratz dolls from young girls, or any toy for that matter, parents should be educating their children on each toy, weighing out the positives and negatives, or progressiveness and regressiveness that each toy embodies.

    Education is the best a parent can do for their child when it comes to toys as Kathryn Fischer points out, “because, face it, eventually children will make their own choices and explorations regardless of parental consent. Presenting ideas with which to interpret toys is significantly more powerful than presenting, or refusing to present, the toys themselves” (61). To withhold a toy from a child, only makes the child, usually more interested in the toy, which will result in that child playing with the toy.

    In regard to Barbie, parents need to educate their young girls on the great aspects Barbie provides while also pointing out Barbie’s flaws and noting that Barbie is in fact not human. However, what’s of greatest importance is to respect all women and to love all women despite their choices. As Fischer states, “as a parent encourages his or her daughter to love her natural body (whether or not she plays with Barbie), I think it’s equally crucial to resist demoralizing and demonizing women who do choose to manipulate, modify and/or use their bodies as vehicles for sexual power” (60).

    At the age young girls begin to play with Barbie, and in turn idealize her, children should be educated about Barbie as a whole, her good, positive aspects as well as her downfalls. But what parents deem as ‘downfalls’, is only relative to them, to some others it may in fact be a positive aspect. It is important that children know that Barbie is not human and in some aspects unattainable, but it is important that children also understand that some young girls and even older women may try to achieve this look and to not scrutinize them for it.

    Fischer notes, I don’t think limiting children’s choices of exploration and play is an effective means to dismantle the racist and patriarchal societal structure that parents and children currently live in. The only thing that will ultimately change the structure is to talk openly with our children in an effort to raise adults who make loving choices about how to lead their lives (61). Thus, the control lies in both the parents along with the children. If children are shown every option as well as educated on that option, children will not deter from their parents’ wishes and play with a oy that their parents disapprove of, but rather they will be knowledgeable as to why their parents favour some dolls or toys over others and usually a child will tend to agree with their parents as the ‘other’ not so great toy is not kept from them, but rather they are educated on the toy. Barbie is among young girls favourite doll to play with and when compared to Barbie’s counterpart, Bratz dolls, Barbie can be seen as a more progressive doll for girls because of the careers she envelops. Barbie “I can be” Architect and Barbie “I can be” President demonstrates great strides since second wave’s feminized jobs that Barbie was placed into.

    Whereas Bratz dolls really hold no occupation, they are professional partygoers. With specific regard to Presidential Barbie, Barbie portrays a positive image and is a positive role model for young girls as through the “I can be” line, Barbie shows young girls that they can be anything they want to be with any career sphere they may choose. However, on the other hand when Barbie is no longer compared to her counterpart, Bratz dolls or any other options available for young girls, the notion of progression is questioned.

    While in the campaign Barbie is demonstrating the power of women in a male-dominated career, her clothes state otherwise. She is aggressively more pink than previous and many careers, which nevertheless exhibit her femininity. This presents a double negative, as Barbie gains in one way, but declines in another, so the question remains of whether when Barbie stands alone, in those platform shoes that allow her to do so, is she really progressive? Or is she the same regressive doll? The regressive nature of her outfit now cancels out her progressive career.

    Young girls are almost destined to play with Barbie because of the lack of other options available for them. Even where there are options available, they are slim or underrepresented in toy stores leaving the child to want the most populous of dolls, those being Bratz dolls and Barbie’s. It is then up to the parents to present these popular dolls but to most importantly; educate their children on these dolls. To be educated is to be knowledgeable and to be knowledgeable one has the power to make decisions, which they believe to be best for them.

    When a child is presented with a Barbie doll but is informed of her positives as well as her downfalls, a child is able to decipher what he or she will replicate from this doll. It is also important for young children to not scrutinize others on their choices and which aspects they themselves choose to imitate. In the end, no matter what the toy or doll, whether they be transgressive or regressive, the education and how well informed these children are of the toys they interact with and imitate is the most important thing for imaginative play in which children take part in.

    Works Cited

    “Barbie. ” Barbie. Mattel Inc. , n. d. Web. 5 Nov. 2012. <http://www. barbiemedia. com/>. DuCille, Ann. “Dyes and Dolls: Multicultural Barbie and the Merchandising of Difference,” [from Shiach, Feminism and Cultural Studies] Fischer, Kathryn. “On Barbie, Guns, and Control. ” Off Our Backs 36. 2 (2006): 58-61. Proquest. Web. 09 Nov. 2012 “The White House Project. ” The White House Project. N. p. , n. d. Web. 04 Nov. 2012. <http://thewhitehouseproject. org/>.

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