Thursday, November 23, 2006

Something different, but somehow related

Another topic for today ... and a new one for my blog: Barbie.

Normally I'm not really somebody who goes around 'Barbie-bashing'. But especially while listening to people going on about the way violent computer games form the minds and morals of boys, I started wondering about how Barbie forms the minds and morals of girls. In fact one of the people in the discussion I mentioned in the last post said he was just waiting for the person running amok who was addicted to playing with Barbie. There's never going to be one ... because guns are not sold in pink.

I played with Barbie when I was a young girl ... I don't think any woman in Germany my age has never played with a Barbie doll in her life. But it seems as if I played with mine differently. I used my Barbie, as most of my other toys, to tell stories. My Barbie did have a lot of clothes - mostly sewn or knitted by my mother, so thank you very much for the hours you spent supporting my dreams, mama - and played a lot of roles, but she wasn't just the model, the princess, the young grown-up. She was an adventurer, a princess who fought for herself instead of waiting for Prince Charming to rescue her. She was a private investigator, a tough girl (I actually used a Playmobil-handgun as a pistol, because you wouldn't get such an accessory for Barbie and I felt a PI needed a gun). And because I was good at it, I mostly got my friends to play my games instead of me playing theirs ... even if they took the lead, playing normal family or models or something, I always found a way to make my doll a bit more active, less 'girly', less typical Barbie. She wasn't the top model, but she was the one taking care of the others, making sure they were treated well and didn't get sick because of the long work hours. She was a family member who looked out for dangers and made sure her younger sister(s) (that was in a time when Skipper still was a pre-teen) were okay. She was practical, more at home exploring or riding than just going to a ball. She might have explored a supposedly haunted castle at night with a flashlight, but she wasn't the average princess living in a fairy tale-castle.

I know now that this is rather unusual for girls - even though there surely are some others out there who understand how much of a substitute (an avatar, if you're more used to game talk) this doll can be, making them grown-up at least in their games. Most girls - especially today with the 'new' type of Barbie (it seems as if instead of getting a couple of different Barbies and a lot of outfits, these days you get a lot of different Barbies and only a couple of different outfits) - seem to play along the lines of what Mattel tells them. They buy not just a Barbie, they buy what the company makes it stand for; hence the computer animated movies in which Barbie is seen playing different characters (from ballets or other stories) ... complete with hosts of dolls and accessories directly taken from the movies.

I wanted a Barbie with long hair, because I liked braiding it and always wanted long hair myself (until I let it grow at 13 and had it cut short about 10 years later, because it was so unpractical and heavy). She might have been the girl with the best-braided hair, but she also was the girl who did things her own way and had adventures ... and she was clever. Today girls seem to be happy with doing their Barbie's hair and then letting her be beautiful.

Originally Barbie was supposed to be a model ... and as a such she taught girls what the fashion was, so they could dress - and act - accordingly. That's what she still does today, at least to a certain extend. But unlike in the 50ies - when she was created -, there is no such thing as the right way for a girl to spend her life. Once every woman was supposed to get married and have children - even though she was 'allowed' to have a job until the first child was born. To a certain extend that was okay - and it still is for women who want to spent their life like that.

Barbie's world is pink … hence the little evil joke at the beginning of the post about guns not being pink. Unfortunately by now 'Pink' also mostly means air-headed girls who only think about fashion and make-up (even though I like and respect the singer 'Pink' who is a tough woman and has a lot to say about the world in her songs). Not for nothing the 'jeunes etudantes' in Eoin Colfer's "Half-Moon Investigations" dress in pink to seem normal, harmless girls instead of the scheming manipulators they are (read the book if you want to learn more about this remark, it's interesting even for grown-ups).

While boys learn to kill through video games (or so some people want to make us believe), girls learn to be stupid, easy to control women through Barbie. The 'Fashion Doll' creates dolls who will play along with what others expect of them in their life. Barbie might have been an astronaut and a senator once, but the girls playing with her only aspire to be models or beautiful women with good-looking boyfriends and a pink life later on today.

I might be a tad too negative about this, but it seems as if the influence Barbie has on the girls has grown a lot during the last 20 years or so. I'm sure that today there are girls out there who use their Barbie the same way I did when I was a young girl. But there seems to be a larger number who falls for this 'blond is beautiful'-nonsense (even though today you can get brunette Barbies, this wasn't the case when I was a girl), who believes that you have to look like a plastic doll with impossible proportions to make it in this world, who believes you are not worth anything if you can't wear those impossible small pants and that tight, short tank top. They do not realize that there's a lot more than just shopping and looking pretty, than just dancing perfectly (and real ballerinas don't look as perfect as Barbie - for example they'll hardly have such large breasts) and buying everything in pink (even your car - I rather treasure my little, green Sirion).

By the time they grow out of Barbie - or so it seems - they are ready to be led on by the super-thin models on the covers of the glossy magazines who tell them the same Barbie has before: Be perfect, be thin, be pretty, be dressed in the latest fashion, have the fashionable make-up and you will be happy - just like Barbie, just like us. You don't need to be clever, you don't need to know about all that technical stuff. Stay away from computers, they are too complicated for a girl anyway, stay away from machines, they only get your clothes dirty. That's for those boys who either look geeky and are rich or look breathtaking and are poor - but driving the best-tuned car in the city. Those 'jeunes etudantes' I've written about already have seen through it. They might dress in pink and seem girlish, but they are determined to be leaders some day - and try to exterminate the source of trouble with their education: boys. Underneath their pink dresses they wear pinstripe suits and business costumes.

I just hope at least some of the 'girly girls' today will transform just like that - but without scheming against boys, it only makes you look bad later on; girls are better than boys at school anyway, just check the statistics. It seems to have started already: a 'gal' in Japan (that's how girls in Japan who dress provokingly and wear a lot of make-up are called) has by now her own marketing company for selling products for 'gals' - she might still wear pink, to stay in the picture, but she obviously is clever and knows what she wants ... and it isn't just Ken (or Brad, or however Barbie's would-be lover is called these days).

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