Sunday, 11 March 2012

Barbie and Ken - should they be banned?

Are Barbies by Mattell the dolls that academic feminist mums tend to buy their daughters? Usually not, which is probably why Mum didn’t get me one for ages. So it was an exciting moment when I got my first brand new Barbie… a moment that was shattered soon after when my sister played with her roughly on the trampoline, breaking off her leg. I thought she’d broken off a piece of my heart, too!

Barbie has been a large part of many people’s lives, I guess I can safely say mainly girls’ lives – but I’m sure boys around the world have enjoyed them very much too, just as girls have enjoyed Tonka trucks – I remember I was pretty excited when my Mum let me buy a cap gun at one stage, too!
Some children just weren’t interested, like Sharon, (who described herself as a bookworm and a Tom-boy in my recent Facebook survey), but I think they will be part of the memories of many adults today.

Jade loved Barbie and she and her two sisters had dozens of them. They had loads of accessories too, the house, trailer, spa, convertible car – all the fun things that children can get lost for hours playing with. Jade’s brother got his share of the fun – he used to pull off Ken's arms and legs and he'd magically transform into Astroboy! Barbies seem to bring out the beast in some of the male species. My friend Shirley wrote that she had never had barbies herself, but her daughter Bec had quite a few, and when she and her brother Adrian had a big fight, he would take the heads of Bec's Barbies and hide them in the garden!  
I was a feminist, academic mum for a while (or at least I was trying hard to be), dead keen on banning anything Barbie from my house. Which, of course, created a desire for the dolls in my daughter that was like a bush-fire longing for fuel, causing me to eventually cave in and buy her the so longed-for doll, which soon had a number of siblings and friends. Sadly, we only had one Ken for many years, and the girls had to make do with Action Men – did this warp their young, feminine minds? It could have created the thought that ‘real men’ have to be very buff and well-built indeed.

They were a good tool for socialisation, my Barbies. When I was ten, I would gather up the bag of Barbies and her accessories, and take them over to visit my friend Linda. She had a massive collection of Barbies, too, with a whole stable full of Barbie horses! This added quite a new element to my imaginary play. It led to some conflicts, too, as we negotiated whose imaginary scene would be the one to work with that day. Vicki experienced similar conflicts with her friends, although she didn’t have a Barbie, she had a Sindy. Vicky discovered that when she took her Sindy doll to her friend's house, who had ALL the Sindy furniture and the Sindy horse and Sindy car, her friend got jealous!

My girls had a Little-Bo-Peep Barbie doll one year, and it wasn’t long until some rough play ended up with a be-heading. The girls, not deterred (after the initial tears, that is), called her Pop-off head, and she became the centre of a whole new game.
Last year the kids came around, all grown up and big as they are now, and I got out the bag of Barbies. The memories that poured back! A lot of fun was had, until the positions they started to set them up in got a little out of hand, and I decided they had to go back in the bag, before big-kids ideas warped the old memories too much. Now I’m keeping the bag in my ‘granny cupboard’, in the hope that one day some little people will enjoy them again. So do I think they should be banned? Probably not!

Thankyou to Shirley, Vicki, Jade and Sharon for your comments in my Facebook survey. Much appreciated!

Copyright Sue Oaks 2012