Barbie Dolls and Bratz - Which Is More Progressive?

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Alexandra Wilson
Dr. Andrea Austin
EN460f – Seminar Paper
Wednesday, November 14, 2012
Barbie and the Notion of Progression
Since the emergence of the Barbie doll in 1959, Barbie has been a populous choice among young children, and more specifically young girls because of its monopolization of the toy market. Barbie is a doll that has been outwardly controversial and debated upon for years and most likely will be for many years to come. The idea of the Barbie doll is a toy for which young girls model themselves after and aspire to be like when they mature and grow up. DuCille states, “more than simple instruments of pleasure and amusement, toys and games play crucial roles in helping children determine what is valuable in and around them. Dolls in particular invite children to replicate them, to imagine themselves in their dolls’ images” (268). In terms of the occupations that Barbie holds, they have become much more progressive since the time of second wave feminism. Now, within the third wave time period Barbie’s occupations have expanded and have entered the men’s work domain. In comparison to other young girls’ toys and the occupations that they embrace, Barbie represents progressive and forward thinking jobs for young women. When comparing Barbie to her counterpart, Bratz dolls, it becomes apparent as to who is the more transgressive doll. Bratz dolls do not hold many job titles; in fact the only occupation in their name is to a pop star. So, comparatively, Barbie is more progressive in the message she sends out to young girls than her counterpart Bratz dolls in the career department. However, when Barbie stands alone, with no one to compare her with, is she still progressive in nature? Should parents be allowing their children to play with a toy, which may be progressive when linking her with Bratz dolls, but when she is not being compared, she falls much into the regressive realm that Bratz dolls do? This paper will assess the progression Barbie has made in terms of occupations since second wave feminism to now third wave while in comparison to Bratz dolls, while also suggesting that this progression may just appear when Barbie is being compared, but when she is on her own does this positive image still exist? This paper will also discuss how other toy options for girls are situated within Toys “R” Us and lastly will examine parents and their right to have control over what their child plays and interacts with.

The “I can be” Barbie doll line’s premise is being able to imagine future careers through Barbie. This line hopes to inspire young girls to imagine a big range of possible careers. In the initial stages of the “I can be” line, Barbie is a fashion model in the sixties. Barbie presented at this time as a fashion model is wearing a one-piece outfit with her legs and arms as well as her top half, above her breasts completely exposed. She is at the gaze of many, not only the photographer but also to the public as she is a fashion model. This occupation places Barbie as a spectacle to be looked at but offers no further substance to the career choice. According to the Barbie Media webpage, other careers offered at this time include fashion editor, ballerina, ice skater, Miss America, Aerobics instructor and many more which place women in their sphere of gender ‘appropriate’ careers (barbiemedia.com). Many of these careers primary focus is on fashion or what Barbie is wearing, and little emphasis placed on what their career actually entails. These jobs present during second wave feminism reflect stereotypical careers for women and do not allow for Barbie to explore jobs, which do not primarily focus on fashion.

Moving into the third wave time period, Barbie envelops careers, which were previously and still are today dominated by men. Recently, the Barbie “I can be” line launched Barbie architect. This career showcases Barbie in a conservative dress, complete with a jacket overtop, a hard hat, blueprints of...
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