Barbie Isn't Raising My Daughter, I Am

BarbieDear Barbie,

It's been another rough week for you, hasn't it? Somebody left your scantily clad body at the top of the stairs, and you had to be rescued from the slobbery jaws of the dog. And then to top it all off, a bunch of scientists came out with another dubious claim that you are destroying little girls' chances at making something of themselves one teeny weeny waist at a time.

In a study published in the journal Sex Roles, researchers Aurora M. Sherman and Eileen L. Zurbriggen have issued forth the brazen claim that you, oh plastic one, you are responsible for teaching girls that they have fewer career options than boys.

They based this assumption, dear Barbie -- or do your friends call you Babs? -- on interviews with 37 girls ages 4 through 7.


According to Sherman and Zurbriggen, "girls who played with Barbie indicated that they had fewer future career options than boys, whereas girls who played with Mrs. Potato Head reported a smaller difference between future possible careers for themselves as compared to boys."

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That's some pretty heavy stuff to lay on your dainty shoulders. And they took it one step further by writing a piece over at The Guardian dubbed, "Girls can be anything when they grow up -- until they start playing with Barbie."

But don't worry, Barbie, this mom has got your scrawny back.

Granted, it hasn't always been this way. Once upon a time, the thought of you entering my house made my skin crawl, and quite frankly the only reason you are currently lying -- butt naked, hair fried to the point of no return -- in my hallway is because of my best friend and her "need" to provide her niece with a "full" childhood. Don't worry, she's about to have a baby, and there are plenty of noisy toys in her future.

But when you did show up in my house, all 11.5 inches of everything I thought was wrong with the way toys are marketed to little girls, I quickly realized something.

You didn't come with baggage to unpack in my daughter's head. That was all mine.

You were just a hunk of plastic (sorry, I said I had your back, not that I was going to sugar coat things). 

You didn't have the power to change my daughter's perspective on herself.

But I do.

I'm her mother. I tell her she's beautiful just the way she is, and I teach her to make healthy choices at suppertime. I encourage her to read, to think, to dream. I tell her she can be a fashion designer if she so desires (at least that's the current aspiration), but she can also be a doctor, a lawyer, the president.

That's my job, Barbie. That's what I signed up for when my husband and I decided that we would make a child.

It's not mine alone; my husband is responsible too. Study after study has -- in fact -- told us that present, active fathers actually help broaden girls' horizons and encourage them to think bigger, to dream more, not to be caught up in the notion that boys can achieve more. In short? Good dads help their daughters develop self-esteem.

That's his job.

And that's what these researchers, what most every missile fired from the feminist fold in your direction, gets wrong. I'm a pretty hardcore feminist mom trying to raise a girl with a healthy dose of self-confidence, but I don't blame you for girls not believing in themselves.

I blame society as a whole. I blame parents.

You can dress up in your astronaut outfit or your president's pantsuit, but either way, you are -- and you must remain -- just a doll to my little girl, just a way to pass the time. 

Oh, don't worry, that's not for your impossibly thin fingers to juggle. That's on me too, as I provide her with books and art supplies, with LEGOs and with science projects. It is a parent's job, not a toy's, to ensure a child gets rounded, balanced messages.

In fact, when researchers in England studied whether you were making girls want to be thin, they found your influence waned as girls got older, as they moved away from undressing you and abandoning you in bizarre places for moms to find. To me that indicates that you do not have some mystical hold on our girls. You are not the be all and end all ... but for a while anyway, we parents are.

So we aren't going to ban you, Barbie. We aren't even going to let the dog make off with your arm dangling from his snout.

We're just going to keep on parenting. Because that's our job. Not yours.


A Mom Who Has Made Her Peace With Barbie

Do your children play with Barbies? How do you make peace with it?


Image via Tracheotomy Bob/Flickr

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