You stroll through the pink-adorned toy aisle, searching for the perfect outfit for your newest Barbie. You look through the dresses and princess costumes, but then decide to sift through the career-related outfits, only to be disappointed by the lack of options. There’s flight attendant and secretary — commonly accepted “women’s positions” — but what about a scientist’s lab coat or surgeon’s scrubs?
Since the iconic company’s inception in 1959, Barbie dolls have been marketed in mostly gender normative “female” careers, excluding what has historically been considered men’s jobs. However, a recent Barbie commercial depicts the potential the iconic toy presents for young girls.
“When a girl plays with Barbie, she imagines everything she can be,” the commercial says after showing young girls playing professor, veterinarian and businesswoman.
The commercial is a leap in the right direction for the company because it eliminates career boundaries for women. According to ABC, a 2010 Barbie book titled “I Can Be A Computer Engineer” has recently garnered criticism for its sexist story line.
“I’m only creating the design ideas,” Barbie tells little her sister Skipper in the book of a computer-based toy. “I’ll need Steven and Brian’s help to turn it into a real game!”
Children who play with Barbie often use the doll to act out real-life situations. However subtle it may be, though, this resonates with us as we age. If we grow up acting out the real situations we later encounter in life, then we’ll fall back on what learned in childhood when presented those situations.
This commercial shows all of the potential Barbie as a toy has, and it shows the potential we also have. If a child is only offered a few career outfit choices for a doll, then she may grow up to believe those are the only career options she will have later in life.
Though it’s a great preliminary step to see Barbie marketing its product as something young girls can imagine themselves doing more with, what about boys? Why is Barbie only marketed to one gender?
The outdated gender norms of society still cause many people to believe only girls like pink and dolls, while boys like blue and racecars. More and more often, though, we encounter children who aren’t confined by the rigidity of gender stereotyping. What happens to those children? Marketing only to one gender makes it difficult for any child to deviate from the norm.
According to NPR, in 2011 Lego attempted to expand its 90 percent boy-targeted consumer product to girls. However, what ensued was Lego pushing girls further into a gender norm category. This left many questioning why girls couldn’t just play with regular Legos? Lego had good intentions, but they really only made it harder for girls to feel comfortable playing with their product without being ostracized for being “masculine.” The product itself didn’t need to be tailored for girls, the language of how we talk about it needed to change.
We believe it’s important for companies to break down the gender barriers in place when marketing their products. Toys have enforced gender roles in past but now they should focus on being inclusive. There’s no reason a boy can’t play with Bratz dolls and girls can’t play with RaceTrak toys.
This change should come less from changing what the product looks like, and more about changing the language around it. For example, instead of changing how Barbie looks to make her less pretty, we should focus on accepting that even though she’s pretty, she can be whoever she wants to be — much like the child playing with the doll. As a result of changing our language around the toy, we make both genders feel comfortable using it.
The companies don’t necessarily have to change the look of the toy, but they need to be more accessible for anyone to purchase without fear of “crossing into the wrong stereotype.” Instead of McDonald’s asking us if we want a boy or girl toy, why not just ask if we want a Barbie or a Transformer? In an effort to make toys more accessible, CNN reported Target is getting rid of gender-based signs.
Instead of saying, “When a girl plays with Barbie, she imagines everything she can be,” we should say “When a child plays with Barbie, they imagine everything they can be.”