The partnership between The Girl Scouts and Barbie was practically inevitable when you really think about it. This is an organization that makes its mark by deploying their annual army of shiny-haired, doe-eyed girls to hawk overpriced cookies to the rest of us. They pose as an organization that empowers women, yet offer online activities for girls 10 to 12 years old that include a “sports style personality quiz” and “test your online etiquette.” Not really a very inspiring way to challenge our girls to compete and achieve.
Even the Girl Scout Law is about being nice and respectful, certainly not about encouraging leadership or challenging oneself. It’s a very antiquated view about what it is to be a “nice” girl. You know, like Barbie. Getting into business with Mattel couldn’t really have seemed like much of a stretch. And neither Mattel nor the Girl Scouts seem to have predicted the backlash against the collaboration.
“This partnership will allow Girl Scouts to offer an engaging and interactive new leadership experience, one that leverages the appeal of Barbie in order to encourage girls to explore exciting new career possibilities,” Anna Marie Chávez, Girl Scouts’ CEO, said. “We are tying the fun girls have playing with Barbie to an opportunity to gain insight into the careers of today and tomorrow, with patches and discovery along the way. Like Girl Scouts, Barbie is an American icon; together, we are teaching girls that their futures are wide open with possibilities, and that they can accomplish anything they set their sights on in their careers.”
The statement is so tone deaf, either she hadn’t actually seen any of the Barbie program’s collateral, or it portrays how out of step her organization is with the rest of American women.
Now girls can buy a Girl Scout Barbie, or head on over to a companion site for Barbie-branded activities. Brownies and Daisies can even earn a Barbie Patch. Yes, Barbie “Can Be Anything” she wants to be, which apparently only requires finding just the right accessories. There’s the “I can be… ” game where Barbie is dressed as sexed-up vague representations of various professionals, like the ballerina who needs her tiara or the rock star and her guitar. There’s also a paleontologist who can’t do her job without her hat. The message here is that you can be anything you want to be within a very narrow and outdated set of choices.
Look, the Girl Scouts are entitled to their retro perspective on womanhood and Barbie has been going strong and selling dolls for decades. But our girls could use a little more guidance for navigating the modern world than style tips. Here’s just one example from Information Week about the gender pay gap in IT jobs. And according to Pew Research, 4 in 10 households with children have mothers who are either the sole or primary source of income. That number was 11 percent in 1960. All while bashing their heads against the slowly-but-surely-cracking glass ceiling.
Like it or not, the world is changing for our girls. It’s our job to prepare them for the many, varied roles they are likely to take on as adults: leaders, earners, mothers. You don’t even have to see this as a feminist thing, it’s just a practical one. Our daughters are going to need more than good manners for their future, like math and science and the confidence to take on massive challenges. So why are we still feeding them this old-school diatribe?