With the release of the new movie, Barbie is the talk of the town. Everyone’s feed is covered in pink, online stores are selling out of any item sporting a Barbie logo and Google searches for the word ‘Barbie’ have increased 323% between July 2022 and July 2023. So it’s easy to see the influence of the Barbie franchise and her role in paving the way for girls, young women and enbys to have any career they like. But, does everyone see it that way?
Where it all Began
Let’s start at the beginning. Back before Barbie was invented in 1959, gender roles still very much existed. Because of this, most young girls were playing with baby dolls, accompanied by bottles, cots and clothes, which enforced the idea that women should be mothers, not career havers. Then, Barbie came along – not a baby, but an adult woman which young girls could project themselves on to – “if Barbie can be it, so can I!”.
This meant that when Barbie was a scientist, astronaut, ecologist or construction worker, young girls could see a new version of how they could be. At the same time, however, Barbie accidentally enforced many messages about how girls thought they should be.
For a long time, Barbie only looked one way. Blonde, slim, white, cis-gendered and able-bodied. And, if you think of Barbie now, this is probably the first image that pops into your head. It wasn’t until 1969 that a dark-skinned Barbie was introduced, and a wheelchair-using doll wasn’t on the scene until 1997 – that’s a long time for girls to become discouraged due to lack of representation.
On the other hand, it may be easy for Barbie to become a computer scientist, because in Barbie world, she doesn’t have to face any barriers to get into the field or do her job. Barbie wasn’t discouraged from STEM fields from a young age by her parents and teachers, and she doesn’t face the anxiety that comes with male-dominated workspaces.
Still, Barbie has come a long way from where she first began and now recognises several powerful women in STEM such as Dr Maggie Aderin-Pocock and Dr Antje Boetius. So, is Barbie a powerful role model, or another way to promote stereotypes? We’ll leave that one up to you!