Lauren is a ten year old girl growing up in the town of Cinnaminson, New Jersey. While being raised in what may be classified as an average New Jersey, suburban community, her parents granted her with the opportunity of experiencing the average middle-class indulgences. As a hobby, Lauren enjoyed bike riding around her neighborhood with friends. However, while at home, her real interest rested in her large collection of Barbie Dolls. Barbie, an overly-popular American doll, has been a much needed item by a large population of females in all age groups across the United States. Though Barbie is an accessible item for children in nearly every socioeconomic class, this doll sends a message that facilitates the understanding of normative gender roles and stereotypes for young girls, which ultimately relays a further message as to what it means to be a female adult in this country.
While searching through the well-known toy store, Toys-R-Us, one can find a Barbie doll in a large variety of prices. In fact, these dolls range in price from $6.99 to $149.99. This made it very easy for Lauren, living a middle-class lifestyle, to obtain her large collection of Barbie dolls. Likewise, with such a large price variance, children of all socioeconomic backgrounds have become enabled to obtain this popular item. It is for this reason why Barbie is considered by many to be not only a satisfying toy for their children, but also a blameless purchase by the parents of all classes.
Unfortunately, however, the majority of these parents have yet to realize that this blameless purchase actually has a blameworthy implication on the overall growth of their child. As parents buy Barbie dolls for their children, rarely do they see them as tools that shape their child’s character. Instead, they see them as toys that simply make their child happy and keep occupied for the time being. Though one can make a case for this assumption, it is important that parents begin to oversee this initial belief and notice the substantial impact Barbie has in developing their child’s understanding of gender roles and stereotypes in this society.
According to Newman, “a toy manufacturer's catalog or web site reveals that toys and games remain solidly segregated along gender lines. Decades of research indicate that ‘girls' toys’ still revolve around theme of domesticity, fashion, and motherhood and ‘boys’ toys’ emphasize action and adventure” (Newman 112). This statement applies directly to Barbie’s impact on young girls. For girls, the gender identity created by Barbie is one that emphasizes femininity through beauty and fashion. For example, if Lauren’s parents went on Toys-R-Us’ website to buy her a new Barbie doll and searched “Barbie doll Age 10” they would find numerous Barbies, 127 to be exact, all promoting princesses, superstars, fashionistas, and most importantly, heterosexual marriage.
Though these depictions of Barbie may seem innocent at first, their underlying message is quite the opposite. That is, each depiction represents a powerful message for the girl who is receiving them at that particular time in their life. It is for these young girls, who may begin playing with Barbie at the mere age of 3, that our society must become more conscious of the demeaning roles and stereotypes that these dolls are promoting. After all, it cannot be the responsibility of these young girls to recognize such an issue.
To the young girl, playing with Barbie is fun; they do not see it as something that will shape their behavior through the rest of their life. Consequently, however, these ‘fun’ toys are simply another way of enforcing this society’s take on hegemonic femininity. James Lull defines hegemony as “the power or dominance that one social group holds over others” and “a method for gaining and maintaining power” (Lull 61). In this specific situation, Barbie is exerting her power of gender identity over young, vulnerable females, ultimately telling them that their gender role entails wearing nice clothes, being extremely thin, and eventually marrying a handsome man.
Despite the fact that these behaviors are learned at such young ages, they tend to grow and even intensify with the child throughout their life. Playing with Barbie, constantly dressing her up in fancy clothes and styling her hair will only make that child believe that that is what she is supposed to be doing to herself. More importantly, the fact that Barbie has a relationship with a man, Ken, instills the belief in the minds of these young girls that they themselves must become desired by a man. On the whole, all of these messages will eventually give meaning to what it means to be a female adult in this country.
The question now becomes why this society must begin to instill such powerful messages to girls of such young ages. Newman has stated that “by the age of five or so, most children have developed a fairly extensive repertoire of gender stereotypes (often incorrect) that they then apply to themselves” (Newman 113) By embedding these ideas of gender roles in the minds of young girls, other marketers will too be able to appeal to their obtained gender stereotypes through advertisements for other products promoting femininity. Now it’s not Barbie, but yet another item that reinforces feminine stereotypes and gender roles.
Think about it. These messages Barbie is sending are not so innocent now, are they? In a way, Barbie exists to make a child a lifetime consumer of products marketed towards her learned gender role. Now the challenge will become living up to this unrealistic image of Barbie, thus creating a goal so unattainable that it will most likely continue throughout that child’s entire life.
Lull, James. "Hegemony." Gender, Race, and Class in Media. 'Ed'. Gail Dines, Jean M. Humez. Thousand Oaks: Sage Publications, 2003. Print.
Newman, David M. Identities and Inequalities: Exploring the Intersections of Race, Class, Gender, and Sexuality. Boston: McGraw-Hill, 2006. Print.
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