Tuesday, March 30, 2010

I Like to Brush My Hair

A few weeks ago, I was spending the day at school helping out.  I came out of the kitchen and saw my daughter intently writing something while Darcy provided guidance.  "Next comes another E..."

I peeked over her shoulder to see what she was working on, my heart swelling with pride at my child's emerging skills.  Imagine my horror when I saw this:

In case you're having trouble reading it, I'll tell you what it says.  It says:  "I'm a Barbie girl."  In pink on pink, no less.

I'd like to blame my babysitter, as wonderful as she is, for my daughter's obsession with this particular song, but really the blame lies with my four year old's skill navigating You Tube on my iPhone.  It doesn't hurt that she knows it pushes my buttons every time she sings it.  Anyway, Darcy must have noticed my horror, because she offered a plaintive condolence.  "At least she's writing words."


In our home, we make every effort to reject gender stereotypes.  (As an aside, I recently found this interesting article in Newsweek on the subject of raising gender-neutral children.)   On Sunday, our vacuum broke, and my mother and I fixed it - and then my husband cleaned the house with it.  Yet, my daughter is into swirly pinkness and sparkles, and my son is obsessed with sports and things with motors.  

I happened to have my parent-facilitator conversation with Anne scheduled that afternoon, and she teased me a bit about the incident, but then offered sound advice.  Let it go, she said.  You may hate Barbie and I don't blame you, but to Bess it's just a doll and just a song.

I tried that, but my feminist sensibilities soon got the better of me.  "What does it mean to be a Barbie girl?" I asked Bess one day.

"It means I like to brush my hair."

ARE YOU KIDDING ME???  Whose kid is this???

"Does it mean anything else?  What does a Barbie girl do?"
Photo by weelakeo
"She can do anything.  Maybe she can be a scientist who studies dinosaurs, a paleontologist.  Or she can play hockey or other sports, or maybe coach.  Or she can be a doctor, or a pilot, or a mailman.  Maybe I'll be all those things when I grow up."

I learned a valuable lesson from this.  It is so easy to look at a child's world through adult eyes.  Taking their perspective is a difficult task and can yield inconclusive results, as we never really can get inside their heads.  Yet we still need to ask the questions.  The meaning we as adults, as parents, assign to things in the world often bears no resemblance to the meaning given to these things by our children.  Our perceptions, experiences, ideas and biases are not theirs, and we need to own them.  When we assume that our children see things the same way we do, we are doing them and ourselves, not to mention our relationship with them, a great disservice.

That said, I still hate Barbie.



  1. I too don't love Barbie and was thinking the other day about when my 2 year old daughter may be introduced to "her". And then I thought about the issue of guns and boys and how perhaps it was the same thing. Perhaps as Anne said it is just a doll, a plaything with no other "baggage" attached to it for young girls. After all when I was young I played with those types of dolls (I had Skipper and Dawn dolls for any of you who remember those) and my brothers played with guns and none of us turned out to be what one might assume (violent, submissive, focused on beauty) would come along with such play.

    Thanks for sharing your thoughts and life Kelly. I love this blog.

    BTW I'm still not excited about my daughter being introduced to Barbie despite my thoughts and experience.

  2. Susan, thanks for responding!

    I also think a lot about my own Barbie experiences. When I was young, I LOVED playing Barbie. We didn't have the house and the car and the pool and all that, and we would spend entire Saturdays constructing Barbie cities and weaving elaborate stories. I don't think I'm any worse off for it, though who knows what I'd be like if I hadn't had such a Barbie-centric play repertoire!

    I think Barbie differs from gun play, though, in that weapons and "war" play are fairly universal. All cultures make and use weapons, and have for millenia, even if only to kill animals for food. But Barbie is a culturally (commercially?) constructed image of what women should look like and be. The image of the beautiful woman being top-heavy with a tiny waist, long blonde hair, blue eyes, high heel-wearing and perpetually smiling is far from universal.

    Not to wax too philosophical, but it's not just my feminist sensibilities that are offended by Barbie. Another issue is the race one - even Barbies who are not fair-skinned have Caucasian features that are not representative of the African-American face (for example), and I can honestly say that I have never seen an Asian Barbie though I'm sure they exist.

    And now that I think about it, when we did play Barbies as kids there was a lot of Ken-rescuing-Barbie games that went on...