Barbie can be a positive role model for girls if, like almost anything else, parents are involved in the play processes. There is no question that Barbie has adapted both physically and socially as she transitioned from purely using her sexuality to self empower, see Bild Lili doll, to whatever she wants to be, “I can be” Barbie line. In the end, it is not the social image of Barbie with which children play with but gender ideas to which their primary socialization agents introduce them.
I had decided to wait until the girls’ turned five to introduce them to Barbie. However, my sister gifted them the “Toy Story” Barbie, which lay ignored for nearly a year, on the girls’ third birthday. Jessie, from the same movie, was far more interesting until three months ago, they are now 4 and a half, upon which one of my daughters announced, “Jessie is just a cowgirl. Barbie can be anything!” She proceeded to turn Barbie into an astronaut. I knew at that moment that the Barbie phenomena had entered our home.
This Christmas our girls received their first Barbie house, a KidKraft Deluxe Play Around Girls Dollhouse, and have already enjoyed hours of play. Sitting to do my work, whether for school or enjoyment, in a small corner of our finished basement, which is dominated by my girls’ toys, I always pay attention to the girls’ games to gauge where they stand both socially and emotionally. So far, Barbie is a reflection of me, i.e., a bossy, pushy, self-assured, form of femininity. Their Barbie play, hardly a surprise given their age, centers around the family in which the biggest trauma is getting a “time out.” Even while my daughters enjoy their play, they see the limitations, as one of them asked, “Where is Barbie’s office?”
I am working on helping them expand their horizons. I have taken the basic structure of the dollhouse and had our handyman build an office building for us. I will be painting it and creating the furniture. In this new structure I will be populating six different spaces: mechanics garage, veterinary clinic, dance studio, restaurant, doctor’s office, and dentist office. The world is their oyster; it’s up to them what they make out of it.