She might be “breaking through plastic ceilings and inspiring girls to follow their dreams,” but is Entrepreneur Barbie a good role model?
I loved playing with Barbies when I was a little girl.
Nowadays to concede that you played with (and dare I say enjoyed) a Barbie doll feels like some weird concession to your feminist principles.
But dang, I still liked playing with my homegirl Barbie.
I used to pair her up with my KNOTB dolls and put on concerts set to the background of Janet Jackson’s Rhythm Nation (sorry Ken, guess you weren’t Hangin’ Tough enough).
Somewhere along the path to adulthood, particularly in the exploratory years of college, my feminist consciousness grew. I began questioning implicit cultural symbols of femininity and gender identity construction.
That’s when I broke up with Barbie.
I became more mindful of the influence such a seemingly harmless doll can have over a young girl. Unrealistic body proportions, the sexualization of toys for girls, stereotyped gender roles, normalization of white privilege — the list of concerns is long.
Now that I’m a mother to a vibrant 1-year-old daughter, I try to be mindful of toys I expose her to. We’ve avoided branded toys and princess-themed products so far, but I know the day is coming when I’ll have to decide if I want to introduce her to my frenemy Barbie.
Enter the Entrepreneur Barbie.
Introduced as the 2014 career of the year doll, Entrepreneur Barbie is described by the brand as, “breaking through plastic ceilings and inspiring girls to follow their dreams.” She has the slogan, “if you can dream it, you can be it” and is owning her place in the girl power discussion with the hashtag #unapologetic. She even has a LinkedIn page that’s pretty fierce. Yes, seriously.
Entrepreneur Barbie has partnered with female entrepreneurs who serve as her “Chief Inspiration Officers” to help spread the message about inspiring young girls. The impressive list of “CIOs” include: Jennifer Hyman and Jennifer Fleiss, co-founders of Rent the Runway; Susan Feldman and Alison Pincus, founders of One Kings Lane; Reshma Saujani, founder and CEO of Girls Who Code and Rosie O’Neill, co-founder of Sugarfina, among others.
I spoke with Reshma Saujani of Girls Who Code and Rosie O’Neill of Sugarfina who shared their take on Barbie’s latest career venture.
“I’m a feminist with a capital ‘F’ and I don’t want to live in a world that’s run by men,” Saujani said.
Saujani is passionate about inspiring girls to explore areas of science, technology and math — career paths traditionally under-represented with female demographics. She started Girls Who Code in 2012 to encourage computer science education for girls and expose them to top female entrepreneurs and engineers in the industry.
“At a very young age, girls often feel — or are told — these careers are not for them and so having as many toys that are out there are inspiring them to be entrepreneurs or pushing them into computer science and into technology are initiatives we want to support and we want to be part of,” Saujani said.
As co-founder of gourmet candy boutique Sugarfina, Rosie O’Neill is probably living out the dream of every young kid. She gets to travel the world tasting candy — and gets paid to do it.
O’Neill believes Barbie helped her express her creativity as a child, which led to career success down the road.
“I remember when I was a little girl, I would play with Barbie and I would kind of play out these stories of, you know, Barbie having her own bakery and Barbie having her own candy shop and that experience really showed me, from a very young age, if you can dream it, you can totally do it.”
O’Neill encourages parents to expose their daughters to a wide variety of experiences. “It may not be your personal passion… but it might be your daughter’s passion.”
However, even this girl power version of career Barbie has her critics.
Danielle Wiener-Bronner mocked the entrepreneurial concept in The Wire saying “Thanks for teaching children to aspire vaguely to buzzwordy nothings.”
Salon writer Sarah Gray condemned Barbie as a role model entirely. “Entrepreneur Barbie is modern woman with her smartphone and her tablet stuck in a sexist, outdated, dangerous representation of femininity.”
Even the fashion icon’s clothing choice was questioned by Liz Tilatti in Forbes who criticized her for completely missing the mark as being an accurate representation of a start-up business owner, pointing out a real entrepreneur is more likely to wear jeans and flats from running around all day.
And to some extent I agree.
While I’d like to think the brand is branching out with new ways to empower young girls, the skeptic in me believes Mattel is probably trying to boost low sales by jumping on Sheryl Sandberg’s Lean In bandwagon.
But I still dig the idea.
Sure, this career Barbie is probably just another example of capitalism at work rather than an authentic display of girl power.
And, yes, we need to choose dolls that promote realistic beauty standards and body proportions for girls (see the Lammily doll), but as a feminist I believe the path towards gender equality also involves advocating for change within current mainstream products.
Entrepreneur Barbie is at least a step in the right direction.
Looks like we might be friends again.