So, I can’t sleep because I’m very worried about my mom right now. I won’t bore you with details; she’s okay for the moment but a lot is weighing on my heart.
The upshot is, you get a post about Barbie dolls.
The stuff about Barbies is in this post at Keet & Nini’s. Keet talks about her daughter loving Disney princesses and playing with Barbies, and reminisces about the other girls in her high school Science Club. She concludes:
I wonder what they are doing now, and hope whatever it is brings them joy and prosperity, and I wonder if any of them have daughters and are the daughters playing in pink rooms with Disney princesses and Barbies? We all did. I’m going to guess they had zero negative effect on our geeky, feminist tendencies. Maybe I should lighten up!
Ah, Barbie! How many hours of my youth I devoted to you!
I would like to tell you some of my Barbie stories. And then you can tell me yours.
Now, I know when little girls play with Barbie, they are supposed to be absorbed in dressing and re-dressing Barbie, mixing and matching her outfits and her shoes and just being totally enraptured with the endlessly fascinating world that is Barbie’s wardrobe. And my little sister and I did our fair share of playing the Barbie-clothes sorts of games. But, we also made up stories for our Barbies to act out. They were not always, shall we say, your typical Barbie-pink kinds of stories.
BARBIE STORY #1
When I was a child, the Vietnam war was featured nightly on the news, along with war protesters. My sister and I used to cuddle up with my beloved grandfather in his big comfy chair to watch the news with him. We didn’t completely understand the news, but there was often a reward for sticking it out. Sometimes, he’d send us to get an Oh Henry! candy bar for him, and then one for us, so it was worth the effort. (Sometimes we had to wait till Gunsmoke came on to get the candy bar.) All that news-watching had an effect on us, though, which came out in Barbie-land. We had commandeered my brother’s G.I. Joe doll – excuse me, action figure – not long after he’d gotten it. We used him as an extra boyfriend because we only had one Ken doll. But having a soldier doll, combined with that nightly news viewing…well…Barbie and Ken and Midge and some other random Barbies were at the prom. G. I. Joe was supposed to be Midge’s date but he was late getting home from the war. Everybody was wondering when G.I.Joe would get there and eagerly anticipating his return. Suddenly, G.I. Joe showed up! Crazed from his war experiences, G.I. Joe rampaged through the prom with his gun, and kidnapped Barbie. Escaping in the Barbie camper, G.I. Joe threatened to kill Barbie. Ken risked his life, overpowered G.I.Joe, and rescued Barbie. G.I. Joe committed suicide. Everyone mourned him because he had been a good kid before the war.
I suppose this story says something about the influence of t.v. on young children. Or, it’s just another illustration that young kids understand more about what’s going on than adults give them credit for.
BARBIE STORY #2
This Barbie game we played only when my cousin came to visit. I don’t know why; I suppose because it was her invention. Our Barbies were witches with magical powers to do whatever they wanted. Of course, they had fabulous wardrobes because they could have any clothes they wanted. But most importantly, they could make their boyfriends behave however they wanted. So – the Barbie-witches’ boyfriends did all the dishes, cooked all the meals, cleaned the house, and waited on the Barbies hand and foot.
Yes, the most fantastical use of magical powers we could come up with was to reverse gender roles.
BARBIE STORY #3
I had a Skipper doll that I really liked because she was new and not a hand-me-down Barbie, and her outfits were all intact. But ultimately she did not satisfy because her dramatic potential was limited, her not being an adult. She could not be expected to rob banks, shoot anyone with G.I.Joe’s gun, or even drive the getaway vehicle (the redoubtable Barbie camper).
BARBIE STORY #4
We never thought much about the fact that Barbie, Midge, and Ken were all white. I can’t remember when I saw my first Black Barbie, but I know it was well after I was out of my Barbie-playing years. I vaguely remember my niece wanting a Black Barbie and certain family members trying to tell her that Black Barbie was “not for her”. I ran across this site about a child’s science fair experiment to find out which Barbie people thought was prettier, a white or black Barbie. For a child, it’s an impressive experimental design, and the results are intriguing. (I imagine the parents gave her some guidance on this, since the idea for the experiment originated with them.) When she put up her results at the science fair, however, the school made her take them down within an hour. I suppose they could not imagine discussing race with elementary school children – and yet, taking down the exhibit was a discussion of sorts, too; one that says “this is a topic we don’t talk about”. (The experiment was done in the 2000-2001 school year.) The interpretation of the results given on the site is that children prefer what they see most often, but adults learn or “grow out of” prejudice. I wonder, however, if social desirability bias might be an influence on results.
I think I would like to say, that I am nervous about discussing that web site in this post. Because it is difficult to discuss race. I’m white, and I am often afraid that I will inadvertently give offense. This fear can keep us from wanting to even talk about race (or gender, or class, or sexual orientation, or…) So the deal I will make on this blog is that I will try to approach issues where I am a holder of privilege respectfully, and if I give offense, I expect to be called out. And if I am, I will try to respond respectfully, not defensively.
What’s the summary of my Barbie stories? I think Barbie is less important than the rest of the home environment. Kids take what is around them and project it onto Barbie, not the other way around. Or at least that’s how it was when I was young. Hard to say how it is today, with the loathsome Bratz dolls on the scene now.
If you crave more Barbie lore, you may be interested in Mondo Barbie.
Okay, now I must really try to sleep. Tell me your Barbie stories!