Tart & Soul

A Search for Meaning and Connection

Tart & Soul

Tart & Soul
December 31
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FEBRUARY 8, 2011 12:44PM

Do Barbie and Cinderella Destroy Girls?

Rate: 12 Flag




I used to believe handing a girl a Barbie doll, princess costume or anything über-girly was like lobbing a grenade into her ego.  I thought toys from the pink aisle siphoned the integrity out of girls, creating boy hungry wimps obsessed with shoes, fad diets and Gwyneth Paltrow movies.

Everyone knows the pink aisle is getting raunchier and bitchier by the minute with tarted up dolls and Halloween costumes, mani/pedi kits and shopping games featuring fake credit cards.  And when they want to set aside their gooey princess fantasies, girls can revel in complete whoredom imitating stars like Rihanna, who make such smutty videos you need an STD test after watching them.

This week, the “save our girls” alarm was sounded once again with the release of Peggy Orenstein’s new book Cinderella Ate My Daughter.  Orenstein wrote the book as a “quest to determine whether princess mania is merely a passing phase or a more sinister marketing plot”* after seeing how girl culture captivated her own daughter.

I have yet to read the book though I’m positive it’s juicy.  Nonetheless, I find myself questioning whether I still believe Cinderella and all her weak-kneed counterparts are in fact eating our girls alive.

Princesses with their fluffy tutus and pointy crowns never did much for me as a kid.  The castle would’ve been swell but I was happy to skip the whiny princess persona along with her flavorless prince companion.  If anything, I wanted to be a Pink Lady from Grease gyrating against my bad boy “knight” Danny Zuko.

However, I did grow up with a collection of Barbie dolls but they all eventually ended up with shaved heads.  In an apparent push for authenticity, I also drew nipples and pubes on their barren, plastic bodies.  And because I didn’t have any Ken dolls, I made the girl dolls kiss each other whenever I wanted to create romantic scenes.  Thus, I inadvertently designed Lesbian Punker Chick Barbie.

When your mom’s a former flower child who barely wears makeup let alone shaves, it’s near impossible to become a shallow twit whose life revolves around boys.  So I had the Barbies, the dollhouses, the kitchen sets and plastic shopping carts.  But I also had truckloads of books which my mother read to me and tons of artsy toys like paints, molding clay and even a wood burning set.  Considering the burn scars on my fingers and legs, I’d say the Barbies were the least harmful of my toys.

All I’m saying is if my mom had allowed me to eat a steady diet of sugar, my teeth would’ve fallen out.  But because she threw some apples and leafy greens in there, I ended up fine.  I even started choosing the healthier stuff myself.

I hope to have a daughter one day.  And I won’t be surprised if she starts walking around in a tiara and loses some of her feistiness once she discovers boys.  It seems as inevitable as a son asking Santa for a fire truck and throwing rocks at birds.  Helping a little kid navigate the culture to become a decent adult is probably a lot like teaching someone to drive.  You sit in the passenger seat, give advice and encouragement, point out Mac trucks barreling toward them and comfort them if they crash.  But you stay in the car.

Besides, these things fade.  Girls get over wanting to be a princess, a fairy or Justin Bieber’s wife.  I imagine if you love the bejesus out of them, they’ll have the confidence to come out of the phase with an identity.

If my daughter should one day come to me saying, “Behold, I am the Princess Malibu Barbie,” I shall not despair.  Instead, I’ll tell her, “why be the princess when you can be queen?  Why wait around for your pumpkin to turn into a carriage?  Queens pick their king.  Queens rule the land.”

If she’s anything like me, she’ll know where to find her own sense of majesty.  And know she deserves nothing less.


*Publishers Weekly

[Photo from MegCabot.com]

Reprinted from Laura K. Warrell's blog Tart & Soul at www.TartandSoul.com.

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My daughters were pretty creative with their Barbies. They would fashion electric chairs out of Popsicle sticks and Barbie would ridfe the lightning. They called them "Electric Chair Barbies."
John, I'm sold on Electric Chair Barbie. Where can I get one?
This is a smart and well considered post. My partner, Abbie, had "loads and loads" of Barbies as a child. And she is staunchly anti-marriage ("I'm perfectly happy to be in a committed relationship as Ms. Abbie") and anti-human reproduction ("And so that thing is supposed to come out of my vagina?")--for herself.

I love her for that.

And I love her because I know she, too, would adore (and encourage creative play with) Lesbian Punk Barbie & Electric Chair Barbie.

What I think is abundantly clear--and I'm far, far from the first to say it--is that no plastic toy or media image can "destroy" girls (or boys for that matter) or impose unassailable hegemonic control over girls and boys in the face of good parenting and a well balanced diet of alternatives to tu-tus and Cobra Commander action figures.
Dolls don't make the girl, parents do. Excellent piece!
teehee I made my GI Joes anatomically correct. I also painted their faces blue and made tartan kilts from an old scarf. Braveheart Ken!
terrific piece, t&s. my daughter had barbies and the enormous motor home and is a kick-ass lawyer who doesn't wear pink. it's all about balance, as you so correctly point out. Lesbian Punker Chick Barbie is fabulous!
Thanks, all, for the comments! From all of your memories about defacing dolls and other gender-targeting toys, I'm thinking owning but destroying them should encourage parents.
Yes, be a queen not a princess! I think most girls want to rule the kingdom, not dress up cute for it.
I read the book -- It was a very candid, clear-eyed look at what we can control with our daughters (and our sons) and what we can't. I found it disarmingly un-alarming. Like the author, I thought that if I raised my daughter a certain way I'd achieve a certain result. Uh huh. Good luck with that! While you can hedge your bets by being present and vocal, in the end they'll be who they are destined to be.
Excellent comment. Very nice essay. I'm your mother's age and had one son. I refused to give him guns until he bought one with his own money at the Alamo, and he never watched TV until he was 4 and then only public TV, of course, his life fell apart when he went to school and found out what the real world was like. It's in the genes. You wouldn't have convinced me of that until I had a kid. I had the first Barbie Doll, my sister had Ken and the Barbie House. My grandmother hand made our Barbie clothes & we sold them one time at a garage sale! But, I didn't turn into a Barbie. We do our best.
One more thought though: I never bought Barbie or Barbara accessories or anything Barbie for my three nieces. They almost always got books. It is a tradition. ;-)
Thanks, ladies! It's especially great to hear from moms. Yes, I guess like most things in life, we all have fantasies of how things will turn out and do our best to direct them toward those fantasies. Life rarely works the way we want it to, but we do our best. I like what Bellwether Vance had to say - they'll end up being who they're destined to be.
While I have no kids of my own, and no sisters, thus lacking in Barbie data: A quiet concern of my own as of late is what I see as 'children-as-fashion-accesories'. Little tiny kids are wearing shoes more expensive than my own. I recently made a strange face, so I hear, when seeing a friends newborn wrestling with the giant flower on the headband that had been placed on her bald little head by her Mother. Little girls being treated more like dolls than humans. In the current culture, where watching shallow, rich famous-for-no-reason women on TV seems to be the greatest television draw of women of a certain age, I fear kids are taking the place of pocket dogs and purses. It's akin to the Father who makes his son miserable by forcing his own aspirations of atheltic stardom on an unwitting child. Troubling.
True, Neil! It is odd seeing those moms who treat their daughters like dolls. Makes you want to tell them to buy a chihuahua instead, and let it wear a crown.
I have a feeling that parental hysteria about Barbie probably freaked out more little girls than the doll itself. It's hard to be a kid and be given a toy you wanted, but have the gift loaded with messages that you shouldn't be interested in your doll because it makes Mommy a bad feminist is rough when you haven't yet hit puberty. I remember it was fun to dress up Barbie, and I remember being fascinated by this stiff little adult tiptoeing through the world with her plastic high heels and purses. My sister and I grew up playing with Barbie in the 1960's, and we still grew up to be gainfully employed adults with college degrees. Not bad, these days. I don't recall that we ever expected Prince Charming to gallop up on his white horse and haul us off to his castle to live a completely antiquated way of life. So his utter failure to show up never disappointed us.

I'd say let your daughter play with Barbie, don't make a fuss about it, and stand by to deliver gentle reality checks when necessary. Parents do well to give their kid some credit for basic sense.
Shiral, you've said it all: Parents do well to give their kid some credit for basic sense.

PS: Love the kitty in your profile pic!
That whole 'Barbie' ruins girl concept always 'gets my goat'. It is as crazy as saying GI Joe puts unreasonable expectations on boys.

Why can't we embrace both truths; that boys and girls are different and on a *spectrum* most girls will fall towards the Barbie end and most boys to the GI Joe end and allow for the girls and boys who want to be or feel they belong somewhere else in that spectrum.

Making women ashamed for wanting to play with dolls, dress up, have children, take care of a home and a man, is as shameful as making one feel bad for wanting to be a CEO and a female wife.

One of the readers here said it best; her partner is anti-marriage and anti-reproduction *for herself*. She seems like the kind of woman who wouldn't push a girl away from dolls/men/domestic life if that is what she aspired to.

So let's stop blaming Barbie. Oh and if Peggy Orenstein wants to sound a real alarm, perhaps she'll sound one about the alarming suicide rate among teenage boys, not to mention the alarming rise in suicide rates among men in general (from 2/3 of the successful suicides to 80%) or the fact that boys are increasingly being left behind/out of education. Seems to me those are far more serious issues then a toy doll.
Great article! I love the part about being queen instead of just some boring princess. I'm pretty sure your little girl will appreciate the idea, too :)
Yes, msnyc, I agree! Maybe we can all look at the toys differently - maybe they exist to help kids work out both the innate AND socially constructed gender roles. Ultimately, they'll get through those phases, embrace what they like and toss out what they don't, as they construct their own identity.

S.ophie, thanks for your vote of confidence!
I hated every sort of plastic doll and loved my stuffed animals. I had a mom who traveled the world and taught me to be fearless. Dolls can't mean much if there are smart(er), steady influences from smart and fearless women in a girl's life. The challenge in this toxic soup of a culture -- princess or slut? -- is finding cool chicks who are not Movie Stars or Gaga for ambitious and creative little girls to emulate.

Those two words alone make so many women cringe....Moi?!
Caitlin, What a great title for the next "save our girls" book - Princess or Slut? Shall we write it together?