Belfast Telegraph

It's childish to blame doll for dashing girls' career hopes

By Helen Moorhouse

Sunday morning. There's another woman in my bed. She is blonde of lock, long of limb, waspy of waist and swan-necked. With a grunt, I remove Barbie from underneath me and chuck her elsewhere – her very presence in the house a reminder that I have failed my daughters miserably.

That's if evidence from a new study conducted by two psychology professors from the University of Oregon and the University of California, Santa Cruz, is to be believed. Boys Can Be Anything: Effect Of Barbie Play on Girls' Career Cognitions apparently proves that four to seven-year-old girls who play with Barbies think themselves capable of doing fewer jobs than boys.

In short, if your daughter brushes Barbie's hair or undresses her everywhere, then she'll probably end up a topless waitress. Whereas, if she plays with Mrs Potato Head, she'll become a rocket scientist.

She's watching me as I write. Barbie, that is. If humans were Barbies we'd have feet the size of ants, our heads would loll about on unsupportive spaghetti necks and our waists would be the width of leeks. But do I think that she's doing my daughters harm? No. And they love her.

My girls have a variety of unnaturally proportioned plastic clothes horses to play with and their games are long, absorbing and inventive. Today's career choices are chef and teacher. Tomorrow that might change to acrobat and queen of chocolate.

Poor Barbie has become the by-word for girls who are vacuous, vain, umambitious and morally relaxed.

She sits there mutely, taking it all and giving nothing but sparkly, fashion-related pleasure in return, yet gets the blame unfairly for so much. Giving girls unrealistic expectations about their appearances for starters.

Yet the only people I've ever heard say they actually want to look exactly like her appear in Channel Four documentaries.

Barbie prompts premature sexualisation of children – something that's backed up, apparently, by Mattel's recent decision to partner with the Sports Illustrated swimsuit edition. The only part of that sentence that my daughters will even want to understand is the word 'swimsuit', prompting nothing but a game of mermaids.

And now she's thwarting girls' perceptions of their future career capabilities. Yet I have yet to hear of a solitary thwarted astronaut crying into her Chablis because Barbie told her she wasn't good enough. Surely it's time we stopped blaming a 55-year-old plastic doll for all women's problems?

I know parents who worried about allowing their children Barbie dolls, but now she's here I have to wonder why Barbie still wields so much power when it comes to what we want our kids to do with their spare time, once we've finished ferrying them from art to ballet to playdate?

Do we really think for one second in the age of the Kardashian, Miley Cyrus and the internet that a plastic doll and some imagination is the worst threat to the healthy future formation of our daughters?

Gender sterotype. Culturally perceived norms. Tea sets vs Guns. Us grown-ups can sit here and fret until our own heads rotate, but, ultimately, a kid's gonna do what a kid's gonna do. And that's pick something up that appeals to them and start to play with it.

So long as there's no blood and nobody's lost an eye, then surely it's all learning?

It's just playtime. Can't it be left at that?

Belfast Telegraph


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