Recently someone forwarded me a link to an article in DWELL magazine about Barbie. Yes, the buxom blonde has now managed to infiltrate the premier publication for modern home design. “Architect Barbie,” was launched at the American Institute of Architects National Convention last year and was met with mixed reviews. The author of the DWELL article was not impressed with her saying,
“Architect Barbie didn’t sit right with me, and I was not alone. Much disquiet on the architecture blogs and in the field focused on her stylized wardrobe: black-rimmed glasses, an outdated hot-pink blueprint tube, a skyline- print dress, white hard hat, those oh-so-fashionable high-heel booties…Barbie seemed like a distraction from, not an answer to, an ongoing problem. Architect Barbie and other gender-specific toys—pastel LEGOs, Lincoln Logs’ pink-accented Little Prairie Farmhouse—narrow girls’ play to what manufacturers think they already like: playing house, not building one. To become an architect after playing with the Barbie, I thought, would be like choosing the profession because you like the glasses.”
When I first read the article, I agreed. I don’t want my daughter marketed to in a way that is narrowing or gender specific. I want her to (and she always has) choose toys and games that are naturally interesting to her because of who she is…not because she is a girl. I brought the article to the attention of a girlfriend of mine who actually is an architect and asked her what she thought. I assumed she would be put off by Architect Barbie, but her reaction surprised and enlightened me. She said:
“Love her or hate her Barbie seems to be here to stay. Many (not all) girls seem inexplicably drawn to Barbie despite the feminist offenses that she brazenly commits in every aspect of her being. Play is just exploration of the imagination. Most often this play is centered around things that a child sees daily and finds familiar…playing house, pretending to be mommy or daddy and having a baby, vacuuming, cooking, putting baby to bed, going to work, not because this is what they ultimately aspire to for their future but because this is what they know. Could Architect Barbie have a more appropriate wardrobe choice? Yes. Could she be wearing steel toed boots? Yes. But the fact that the word Architect may be introduced into the day to day play of a girl who may one day choose to enter this profession is ultimately what matters. I think it is safe to say that this little girl will most likely grow up and not choose to wear high heels and a tacky, inapropriate dress to the office. When she grows up aspiring to be an architect she can discover the downfalls of the profession for herself. When I was growing up playing with Barbies we played with McDonalds Barbie and I don’t have an unexplained desire to serve Big Macs.”
Her argument made me reconsider my original, bristly reaction. A further comment from another DWELL reader, also provided perspective:
“Barbie was invented in the 50s and it was the generation of girls who grew up WITH her who were the first to really go into the workforce. When I was a child (60s), Barbie could do anything, and females ruled in Barbie town. It was a woman’s world and what Barbie could do was limited only by a girl’s imagination. Appealing to young girls is a first step to make any occupation attractive and superimposing our stern adult views of what ought to be misses this point. You do NOT have to wear flats to be an architect and you should not have to forfeit being feminine to be anything you want; that would be anti-feminist in that it suggests that we have to present ourselves in masculine, or at least traditional gender roles already associated with the jobs in order to go into them. True feminism should embrace femininity and not expect it to be subverted for success. Long live Barbie; she still has lots of work to do in this world.”
As a child, I played with Barbie and I wanted to look like her – I don’t remember caring what her personality or career was. I’m sure I’m not alone. As a mom, though, I feel like I should care about this. Barbie is so sexual in her appearance. Her big boobs and long legs have been identified as massively out of proportion as to what is even possible for a human being. If she existed in real life, she would be something like six feet tall with a 39″ bust, 18″ waist, and 33″ hips. However, even though as a little girl I might have imagined what it would be like to look like her, I don’t think Barbie really affected or influenced my self-confidence or direction in life. Perhaps, after all, she
was is just a harmless plaything?
Do you think Architect Barbie or Barbie in general is offensive? I would love to hear your opinion.