In Defense of Barbie

Attention Mainstream Feminism, I need you all to stop shitting on Barbie right the fuck now.

I used to think I had a complicated relationship with Barbie because I believed I had to if I was going to publicly identify as a feminist.

But you know what? I loved Barbie when I was a little girl! I loved playing Barbies with my little sister. I loved her remote control car that she could actually ride around in. I loved having her go on adventures with my Batman action figures. I loved making her go on dates (and have what I believed was sex) with other Barbies. Even now, I still get excited when I hear about Barbie becoming a computer programmer or a producer or an architect because I know little girls look up to Barbie and imagine themselves as her whenever they play with her.

And you know what else? I don’t think I’m alone. In fact, some of my favorite feminists, like my mother and my aunt, have been fiercely supportive of Barbie and her careers. Actual feminist hackers hijacked what was a problematic book written about Barbie programming and turned it into one of my favorite memes ever. And even while more and more Upworthy-type articles try to promote “body realistic” alternatives to Barbie, Barbie continues to dominate the market. Because Barbie has been and will continue to be an important feminist icon for young girls.

Yeah, I said it. Barbie is a feminist. And I need all other feminists to stop hating on her for not always getting it right because at least she’s trying. And we all know what throwing stones from glass houses gets you. I can’t even hope to have as much of a positive impact on young girls as Barbie has had in the 55 years she’s existed. I’ve known many trans girls and Uranian boys who grew up begging for Barbies, and it was because they admired her. They admired her so much and for so many different reasons, that they went out and bought one once they became adults.

Now I admit, I myself went through my Barbie-hating phase. I think many butch and masculine women do. But I have grown out of my femmephobia and I have learned to embrace and encourage and support women (and all other genders) who engage in femininity for whatever the hell reasons they want to. Just because I don’t easily grok femme things is no reason for me to hate on them, and that goes for all the rest of you feminists who think Barbie is too pink or pretty to be a good role model.

Barbie has had over 150 careers, ranging from “feminine” to “masculine” jobs and everything in-between. She’s been a nurse and a doctor and a surgeon. She’s been a flight attendant and a pilot. She’s been a secretary and an executive and a CEO. She’s been a vet tech and a vet and a zoologist. And she built all of that from her humble beginnings as a fashion model, which she evolved into a career as a fashion editor a year later. Barbie has been a Marine Corps Sergeant, for god’s sake! Do you have any idea how brutal the Marine Corps is to women? And she does all of this while being aggressively femme in a world that tries to constantly police the ways women express themselves. Barbie is fucking hardcore.

Barbie is a boss, and Barbie takes care of herself, her seven siblings, her dozens of pets, and her friends without the financial support of any man or parents. Barbie has never been married (although she does model wedding fashions sometimes with her friend Ken) and she refuses to apologize for her love life. All of the shame and hatred directed at Barbie by feminists is the same kind of shame and hatred directed at other successful women who don’t meet Mainstream (i.e. White) Feminism’s standards. Maybe we all need to take a BIG step back on how we’re talking about Barbie, and realize little girls might be harmed more by criticisms of her than they would ever be by the doll herself.

And yes, We can have a conversation about how there need to be more types of bodies represented in the mainstream, including toys marketed to girls. But we are not going to do that by hating on skinny women with big breasts. I know her proportions are exaggerated and outside the realm of possibility for the vast majority of women without some form of plastic surgery. But there are real women who have plastic surgery and Barbie could very arguably be one of them. And there are just as many reasons to have plastic surgery as there are women. Maybe Barbie is just being realistic about the type of body a woman has to have in order to be successful in this fat-antagonist world.

You know what other toys have exaggerated proportions that are marketed to children? Action figures. But I never see any feminist articles being shared about “body realistic” alternatives to GI Joes. In fact, I think a much more important conversation needs to be had about how nearly all toys marketed to boys are centered around guns and violence. I’m much more concerned about boys growing up to solve their problems with violence than I am with girls growing up comparing themselves to Barbie.

I guess it’s easier to attack a successful, conventionally-attractive woman than it is to tackle more dangerous problems like toxic masculinity. But I need you and your feminism to grow up, and start punching up instead of punching down. There are way bigger issues in the world more important to girls and women than a damn doll.

Barbie has been the queen of dolls for 55 years for a reason. So you better bow down and recognize before you criticize.


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Dori Mooneyham

Dori Mooneyham is a psychology student at Texas Woman's University specializing in queer youth and their families. As a feminist, trans woman, and lesbian, she offers many unique insights and perspectives not often seen in the academic world.

3 thoughts on “In Defense of Barbie”

  1. Thanks for articulating this so well. I adored Barbie as a little girl and was often made to feel bad about continuing to collect her as a teen and young adult. I still feel like I have to qualify my fandom if I ever dare speak of her in present-day forums. Now you have me thinking about trying to find the last few I have in storage.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. I’m so glad you enjoyed it! I was inspired by a Timehop of mine where I was beginning to think these through, so I was somewhat responding to myself as much as anyone else. I too have kept quiet of my childhood love for Barbie as she seems to be the popular toy to demonize right now in feminist circles, but it’s never settled with me right and I just had to get that out there.

      Like

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