I came across this add last week and while seeing it I could not avoid to smile and laugh. It is indeed a ‘cute’ add. Despite that there are a couple or more things I believe it is important to reflect upon before giving Barbie as a gift with the conviction it will give our girls the possibility to imagine everything they can become.
The first point is that this commercial is still and totally targeted at girls. They do not only express it verbally, but just in case someone missed it they use the pink colour and they show all these little girls with this very childish voice. I don’t know a girl this age that uses this kind of child like tone. The main problem is that this ad is not only using gender stereotypes but also reinforcing them. At the same time it also passes the idea that Barbie is mainly a toy for girls, this way keeping boys apart from this type of game and hindering them to learn all the competences it entails.
Paying attention to people’s reactions in the video it is noticeable they all laugh and look at each other with surprised. Why are they laughing though?! I mean, if the point of the ad is to take girls seriously in their professional choices there is something wrong with the portrayed adult’s reactions. In my view they are just reinforcing a condescending and patronizing attitude towards girls and women widespread in contemporary society. Sort of ‘let they believe they can do it, we know it is not for real’.
Now, the most important, I believe, is that this commercial is providing a completely wrong message regarding what girls and children in general learn while playing Barbie. The skills and attitudes learnt through this king of game are about role modelling, imitation, social and caring skills, fine motor skills, problem solving, among others.
Despite the fact imagination’s development is encouraged through pretend play it is not necessarily the kind of free future ideation on professional development praised by Mattel. As pretending is closely related to what is familiar and known to the child it is therefore also limited to the models he/she has in his/her life. So, my main critic goes in this direction, as Mattel is using a false assumption, making use of the ‘equality narrative’, to sell a product and ultimately contributing to reinforce gender inequality in later life.
And what is more, Barbie teaches girls a model of beauty and femininity that is based in unhealthy weight and unattainable body image, portraying women as appearance oriented and obsessed with clothes, make up and looking good. And if someone doubts it just have a look at the videos suggested in the YouTube page of the ad.
I am convinced it is essential for parents and educators in general to have a closer look at the toys they buy for their kids, going into a deeper analysis of the kind of skills and attitudes children will develop through them.
Caring about socialisation and gender socialisation through games and toys is an essential way towards improving gender equality in later life, by giving boys and girls the chance to learn different skills and attitudes, that embrace a variety of spheres and that are relevant to several walks of life. And be careful not to be misled by ads making use of the ‘equality narrative’ to sell their products, this is in most cases just a marketing strategy and not a real feature of the toy.