America needs presidential candidate Barbie right now. During my month long hiatus (aka June) I was having an internal struggle over whether or not I should keep collecting Barbie dolls. This came on the heels of an accessory shopping trip wherein I discovered a disturbing trend in Barbie add-on packs. One was for cooking cupcakes, the other included a tiny dust buster … that was pink, because girls like cleaning things and the color pink. It pulled me back to my tweenage years and the talking Barbie from 1992 that lamented that “math class is tough” (because girls are anecdotally bad at math) and who pushed me further away from dolls. Don’t get me started on Teen Pregnancy Skipper with removable fetus (yes, that was a real doll). Was I contributing to sexist gender conditioning by, in any way, supporting Barbie? I found myself troubled.
I also found Presidential Candidate Barbie.
To start, here is the official description:
Explore the world of politics with this doll two-pack that includes Barbie® President and Vice President dolls together for the first time! From campaign tales to election events to decision-making moments, these partners are ready to inspire in polished outfits worthy of the White House.
Barbie® doll as President takes the lead in a red and white jacket with smart black detailing, a classic blue skirt, sparkling earrings and black shoes. The Vice President doll is a strong second-in-command wearing a yellow peplum top with black stitching, black pants, black shoes, a beaded necklace and black eyeglasses.
Play out a world full of storytelling possibilities and career opportunities with this powerful duo ready to lead young minds into imagination because with Barbie®, you can be anything!
The first thing to note about the Barbie running mates is what you cannot notice from one picture: there are four versions of the doll set. In each version there is a Presidential and Vice Presidential candidate of differing ethnicity. Blond Barbie (the so-called “classic Barbie”) is in three of the four sets, running for President in one and Vice President in two. In one pack she is no where to be seen.
The outfits are equally important for this doll pair. For better or worse, Barbie has long been about the clothes so the clothes beg for analysis. Also, it’s important to mention how hyper-scrutinized the wardrobe is of any woman who lives in the White House, so talking over the clothes is particularly appropriate for this set.
The Presidential candidate in each set wears a red, white, and blue outfit (obviously) with ankle strap black pumps. Where is the American flag pin? I’m just saying, literally everyone in politics has one. Vice Presidential candidate Barbie wears a yellow and black peplum blouse, black slacks, a string of pearls, and black pumps. She also wears glasses, which I like, because I’m always for dolls with glasses. The pearls and blacks slacks almost consciously reference the classic style of Audrey Hepburn (Breakfast at Tiffany’s and Funny Face, respectively).
Note that neither of these dolls have purses. I’m assuming their pants have pockets and that they’re only carrying their wallet and keys because they’re busy trying to plan on how to guide America to a brighter tomorrow and have to pack light. Another important facet of these dolls is that they all have sensible hair styles. No bounteous, bottle blond curls for these ladies.
I saw a few of these sets at Target last weekend and I wasn’t as impressed with the quality as I wanted to be, though I do want to pick up the pair for the Vice President’s outfit. However, the quality of the dolls isn’t what I’m concerned about here, it’s the idea behind the dolls. As much as we may refuse to admit it, Barbie is an “aspirational figure” (as Lisa Simpson so fittingly called her) and is given (primarily) to young girls who see Barbie as a version of what the girl herself can become as an adult woman.
Looking around the toy aisle almost every Barbie has something to do with child care – which I resent and vehemently reject, by the way – and that the main “end game” for childhood, as being the procurement of a child, leads to a lot of dead end roads. Some examples from the toy aisle that are real and from one trip to Target: there’s Barbie dog walker who walks a dog that has a baby dog with it, there’s Barbie teacher who teaches kindergarten, there’s Barbie optometrist who puts glasses on babies, there’s Barbie doctor, and yes, she’s a pediatric doctor, of course. Both veterinarian Barbies, both of them, only treat baby animals. Seriously? What message does that send other than: “As long as your job still has to do with babies you’re fine, kids!”
Presidential candidate Barbie is just that, a Presidential candidate, there’s no toddler in tow, no male running mate, and thankfully no pink in sight, it’s just Barbie and Barbie up there at the podium. She may have to work twice as hard to get half as far, but that’s a way better model than the existing one that almost invariably involves having children (or at least having children around) as being central to female identity. Or that cleaning is “fun.” Screw that.