I’ll Stick with Blocks: One Woman’s Take on Gender and Barbie

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March 10, 2005

If Barbie is the ideal woman then I think we’re all doomed.

Critics point out several terrifying facts in their assessment of Barbie as the cultural icon, one of which is that the thinning of feminine body ideals was occurring while the weight of women nationally was going up. Imagine that. A modeled hunk of plastic and synthetic fabrics, constructed in the 1950s, would remain an American Ideal for going on 50 years now. What, might I ask, is the world coming to?

It amused me to no end that Barbie’s designer (or engineer) was Jack Ryan, who was responsible for the designs of two missile prototypes for the Raytheon Company. Something clicked into place while reading this fact; the image of twin torpedoes came to mind, and suddenly I had the answer: The reason men like the Barbie ideal is because it combines Women with Weapons of War! What could be more thrilling for the male subconscious?

As for us women, I’m flabbergasted that we haven’t burned Barbie at the stake. This doll is supposed to be a reflection of ourselves — she is after all female — yet she resembles absolutely no woman found in nature. What kind of gender is this?

But the stigma of these gender-specific toys we play with still perpetuates itself in a never-ending cycle. Legos and Playmobiles are tailored towards themes that are considered male and female — the packaging states as much with blue and pink. You can guess which color goes with what gender. Plastic trucks and erector sets are designed with a kind of industrial-forward-thinking-Boy Scout in mind, while girls are expected to gush over the likes of Pretty, Pretty Princess. Gender neutrality can’t even be found in stuffed animals—half the animals made nowadays are wearing clothes of some kind. For that, I blame Disney. I have to wonder what people in third-world sweatshops must be thinking when they see this stuff coming off the assembly line. I can suppose that the only remaining toy out there that hasn’t been “genderfied” in any form is plain old wooden building blocks. It’s pretty difficult to assign gender to a hunk of wood.


I’ll Stick with Blocks: One Woman’s Take on Gender and Barbie was published on March 10, 2005 in Features

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