As the education reporter for the Post Register, I receive a lot of emails from local schools. I also receive emails from the University of Idaho. Usually these emails are press releases about events going on at the schools or research being done. So imagine my surprise when I received a release about Barbie. I am not even remotely joking. Apparently today is her 50th birthday and she and Ken have been “just friends” since 2004.
Now I’ve got to admit when I saw “Barbie” as part of the subject line in the email, I didn’t know what to think. I was curious, though. So I read it. Turns out it was all about body image and how we view female beauty in this country.
Some very good points were made.*
“Growing up feminine in the U.S., one of the predominant themes is that your appearance matters to how we evaluate you,” said Annette Folwell, an associate professor who teaches a gender and communication course at University of Idaho. “Our culture needs to value women for more than their appearance. They need to be valued for their intelligence and what they can be beyond their looks, but there’s no easy fix to the popular mindset.”
“[In the U.S.] we have a long history of heterosexual women being explicitly instructed to ‘play’ dumb in order to boost the ego of potential mates,” said Traci Craig, associate professor in psychology and communication studies at the University of Idaho. “However, in general, even male intelligence is not something valued over brawn. The key distinction about how we value male and female bodies is competence versus aesthetic: a male child can have any body shape at all, but as long as he plays sports well or provides needed physical competencies, he is valued. Female bodies are predominantly valued for their aesthetic appeal.”
Sad but true. The part that pisses me off the most is the “‘play’ dumb” part. I’m proud to say that I can honestly say that I’ve never “played” dumb to boost anybody’s ego, male or female. I think doing so is dumb and a fast way to lose the respect of that other person as well as your own. People–of either gender–shouldn’t have to be afraid to showcase their intelligence. Personally, I’d rather go for the geek than the jock. In both romantic and platonic relationships, I want somebody I can carry an intelligent conversation with.
The release also compares Barbie with a popular toy for male children: GI Joe.*
More recently, in 2000, filmmaker Jackson Katz documented of the evolution of male dolls, or action figures. He traces a drastic change in the body structure of the dolls over the past 30 years, including ballooning biceps, arms and chest. Today, GI Joe is pretty much Ken on steroids. Notably, steroid use among young men has never been higher.
If the wildly popular dolls are any indication, American’s have now apparently embraced delusional body images of both genders. But GI Joe has a real job, which requires just one, highly respected uniform. Barbie continues to dabble in careers between costume changes.
“The Barbie doll is geared for accessories and clothing, and very few other aspects of women’s lives,” noted Folwell.
Dabblers of any gender annoy the hell out of me. I always want to just shake them and yell, “Make up your mind, damn it!” I was never big on dolls growing up–I was more of Lego fan–but I think Barbie annoyed me even back then (we had a few Barbie dolls but most of them were other kinds).
Just reading all of that is depressing and has given me a lot of time to think about. I’ll post more in the next few days when I have time.