I didn’t grow up with a huge collection of Barbies. It’s actually a funny story that I’ve already told about how I ended up with Doctor Barbie, but I just wasn’t the type of kid with a bajillion Barbie dolls. I had other dolls as I got older, and so many stuffed animals, but somehow Barbie seemed so tied up with looking a certain way instead of just playing. Over the years, my views of Barbies have changed. Perhaps it’s because Barbies have changed, looking more realistic and less, well, like a Barbie doll. Or maybe it’s because I understand the type of play that parents can encourage with dolls that simply isn’t the same with other toys. It’s not to say that Harley won’t also get cars, LEGO or science kits, but there’s room for dolls as well.
Along these lines, I got a press release yesterday regarding Barbie, and I figured I’d ignore it, that it wouldn’t really be for me. Oh how wrong I was. Watching the video made me smile and get a bit tearful at the same time. It’s all about dads who play Barbie with their daughters. It’s based on an idea that investing time in their imagination is a way to invest time in their future. Here is the video so you can watch without going anywhere:
Sure, I could bemoan the fact that they don’t also show boys playing with dolls, something that might help boys learn empathy, learn that roleplaying is normal for kids of any gender. And yet, I just really like this initiative. It reminds me of this ad that did so well last year, showing off just why Barbie is worthwhile.
Contrary to my immediate prejudices, Barbie isn’t just about dressing up, living in a dream house and marrying Ken. It’s an opportunity to imagine what life would be like as a business woman, an astronaut or yes, a doctor. It’s an opportunity to imagine the possibilities of life, to role play and conceptualize a future where being a professor or CEO is normal. It’s a lovely campaign, and I really like the ideas behind it. I just wish similar messaging was done towards boys. Yes, I know it is counter culture for boys to play with dolls, and it’s already a big step to show dads playing with Barbies… I just wish in a bid to normalize expressing emotions, we could normalize Barbies and dolls in general for boys as well. At least this is a good step, though.
So, while I may have some reservations, I suppose my feminist side needs to embrace the new messaging Barbie is doing. It isn’t just about clothes or silly gender normative socialization. Barbie can be a force for feminism, for imagining a more equal future, or just an opportunity for girls to play with their fathers in different ways. Although knowing Dean, he’ll end up integrating our gaming figurines into Barbie play time and Harley will end up making Barbie praise the sun with our Dark Souls figures, or jump in the Final Fantasy XV dream car.