Over the weekend, a producer from Fox & Friends contacted me, asking me to come on and comment on the new "Burka Barbie:"
The "burka Barbie" in question is one of 500 dolls, many dressed by Italian designer Eliana Lorena, currently on display at Florence's Salone dei Cinquecento and to be auctioned off for Save the Children in association with Sotheby's. The exhibition, in concert with Barbie's 50th anniversary, has Mattel's blessing.
Anna advised me not to do the show. Not only is she unimpressed by previous segments in which Jezebel was mentioned, she was pretty sure they'd "play the concerned "feminist" card" while in fact getting in more sweeping digs at the pernicious influence of Islam. Indeed, although the doll hasn't generated a ton of media attention, it's been enough to prompt both reflexive anti-Islam rhetoric (ahem, Daily Mail commenters!) and feminist outrage. NOW's Marcia Pappas has apparently released the statement,
As feminists we believe that women must be able to make their own choices and that includes choices about the clothing they wear. But the burka is more than a choice. Women are forced to wear the burka or risk being murdered. Mattel should be ashamed. Making a profit by selling a doll that is clearly wearing a symbol of violence is not acceptable and there should be a public outcry to take this doll off the market.
But there were other reasons that dressing Barbie in a burka wasn't exactly the cause I wanted to get behind, especially on Fox News. A non-Muslim dressing a non-Muslim doll in a burka trivializes it and reduces it to a costume as surely as Barbie's Mackies and bikinis and doctors' coats. Also, the burka in question is scaled strangely - not to mention lime green and vermillion. Perhaps more problematically, the doll is dressed in a burka "or" a hijab, and the two are not the same thing.
But most of all... I don't think it is really that big a deal: it's a single doll. It's not mass-produced. It's presumably not intended for any children, Muslim or otherwise, and doesn't seem to involve any more social commentary than Malibu Barbie does on Proposition 8. That said, whether the designer intended it to be or otherwise, it's obviously a loaded choice: Saudi Arabia outlawed Barbie in 2003, and as the Christian Science Monitor reminds us, "in April 2008, Iranian prosecutor Ghorban Ali Dori Najafabadi warned in that Barbie dolls are 'destructive culturally and a social danger,'" prompting attempts to ban them from stores, although several Barbie-substitutes have failed to catch on. (Fulla, a more naturalistic fashion doll from the United Arab Emirates, has been successful across the Middle East.) And for many, Barbie can never be de-sexualized.
In the end, I spent so much time debating and deciding that by the time I'd made my decision, the Fox segment had already aired. Too bad: I'd arrived at what I thought was an inarguable thesis: at the end of the day, all Barbies are going to end up in the same place - naked and spread-eagle on the floor.