Monday, September 27, 2010

Barbie Commercials and Gender through the Decades

Barbie isn't a brand particularly known for it's commitment to feminism, but it's interesting to look at how Barbie (a physical objectification of women) has changed through the decades and how that reflects attitudes about gender.

This demure commercial features Barbie in a wedding dress, a beach dress, a conservative nightgown, some city-wear, an evening gown (with cigarette holder! that's how you know it's the 50's!), some party dresses, and a swim suit. The song ends with a close-up on Bride-Barbie and the lyrics are, "Some day I'm gonna be/ exactly like you!/ Til then I know just what I'll do/ Barbie, beautiful Barbie/ I'll make believe that I am you!" So clearly, the fantasy constructed for little girls in the 50s is that you can have a lot of pretty dresses, but the best thing is to someday be a bride. And ergo... wife.

In the 60s, it's exciting that Barbie's a little more mobile than before! She can pose! And... pose some more! Did we mention that she can sit?

Superstar Barbie is all about the fashion. They don't even try to get her to be "active" and sit.

Astronaut Barbie! Finally! A profession! But don't worry, she's still stylin' and her space-wear doubles as futuristic club wear. Phew! And finally, in the 80s, we get Barbie's new slogan, "We Girls Can Do Anything!" ... as long as you're wearing the right outfit, of course.

Ah, Super Talk Barbie. She has SUCH good ideas. Malls, sleepovers.... tell me where she's applying to college! Oh, she's not? She's just going to go to the mall every day in hopes of running into Ken? Well, that's a good idea too.


Love her or hate her, Barbie is a pretty interesting cultural icon. Impossible beauty standards, changing careers, fashion flip-flopping... Each decade's dolls are a good litmus test for how gender stereotypes posited women. The range of careers Barbie had in each decade is another telling sign of the social progress of women. I remember I had a veterinarian Barbie in the 90s (oh, yeah, I was big into Barbie) and I think my sister had a pediatrician Barbie (note that Barbie was a pediatrician. A doctor, but a much more feminine version of one).

And I've got to say, I still love Life Size, a TV movie about an Eve Doll (kinda like Barbie, but without the trademarks) who comes to life and learns how to be a full person, and not just a doll. It has a surprisingly feminist message. And Tyra Banks is perfect for the role of Eve. (And it's when Lindsay Lohan was still young and cute!) If you haven't seen it, search it out immediately! I'm pretty sure the whole thing is on youtube.

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