President Barbie: Tool of the Patriarchy Now Teaches Girls to Aim for the Oval Office

7 years ago

Every once in a while, something causes me to take a deep breath and turn down the heat on my boiling cauldron of seething cynicism. The latest campaign by The White House Project, who work to advance women in leadership with the project mission "add women, change everything," is causing me to step back and think. The organization is teaming up with Barbie to inspire girls to aim high - as high as the Oval Office if that interests them. (It's not their first Barbie collaboration: that was back in 1992 when Babs ran for office.)


The site features a petition asking President Obama to support Take Our Daughters & Sons to Work Day and show the world how things can change when we add women to the workforce in meaningful ways. (The fuller agenda is spelled out at The White House Project newsroom page.) Setting aside my issues with Barbie's promotion of idealized thin beauty for the moment, let's step into my time machine and travel back to when I was an eight-year-old girl.

It's November 1984. I'm sitting on the bus on my way to a fun-filled day of second grade. My friend Tracey boards and plops down next to me.

"Are your parents voting for Mondale or Reagan?" I asked. Without waiting for an answer, I continued. "They should vote for Mondale. He's good for working people." (Seriously, I was already a preachy liberal at the tender age of eight.)

Tracey shrugged. "I don't know. Hey, wanna come over after school and play Barbies?"

"Sure." I was a preachy liberal, but I really loved Barbie. My love for Barbie was not entirely linked into my political interests, though. (Hey, I was only eight!) As I wrote last year in celebration of Barbie's 50th birthday:

I liked combing my various Barbies' hair, dressing her in glamorous dresses and stiletto shoes that inevitably fell off her feet and got lost in my bedroom carpet until I found one by stepping on it barefoot and driving a mini hole in my sole, and, in the later years, assisting Ken in scoring. It is almost sad how much interest my penis-less Ken had in humping my ultra smooth Barbies.

Now that my time machine has firmly deposited us back in 2010, I see that The White House Project's partnership with Barbie makes a lot of sense. Other girls saw a better link between Barbie and the future than creepy horny men. Last year, Sensibly Sassy's Two Cents wrote that the message she got from Barbie was that girls really could aspire to be anything:

Barbie was an example to me and other girls, that you could be feminine and smart and pursue your dreams, whatever they may be. And while Ken was a part of the picture, he wasn't the entire picture. The emphasis wasn't on him, it was on Barbie and her dreams...

That's the whole point, of course. Barbie, through her myriad careers, gave girls a socially acceptable outlet for thinking about their futures. Theresa Walker at The Mom Blog evaluates some of Barbie's latest career options, resulting in a both hilarious and serious analysis of each potential job and Barbie's skills, as well as wondering what other types of work she might consider. It's a great discussion.

Despite some of Barbie's loftier goals, there are many feminists who believe that coiffed, skinny, big-boobed Barbie is still nothing more than a tool of the patriarchy. (I sort of travel in that pack.) Yet girls -- even weird ones like I was -- love them. Since we can't stop that, we can co-opt it. Kudos to The White House Project, then, for seizing the opportunity to use a tool of the patriarchy against its interests. It's smart counterinsurgency work wrapped up in a shiny smile and dainty high heels.

Suzanne also blogs at Campaign for Unshaved Snatch (CUSS) & Other Rants and is the author of Off the Beaten (Subway) Track.

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