As part of her new quest to become the world's most cross-branded elongated humanoid next door, Barbie is now teaming up with the Girl Scouts. As one would expect, many people are not having it.
"Girl Scout Barbie" is the result of a $2 million partnership between Mattel and Girl Scouts USA. The spoils of this partnership include a special-edition Girl Scout Barbie clad in pink, a Barbie-themed activity book, a special website and a Barbie-branded Girl Scout uniform patch that troops can earn once they write a topical essay about how capitalism is commoditizing the experience of childhood. Ha ha, just kidding; they get it for completing the Barbie booklet, which is all about the myriad career paths open to enterprising young women.
As the Washington Post points out, this effort is probably not the most efficacious way to encourage girls to "Be Anything. Do Everything," which is the official motto of the partnership. The "I Can Be..." game, for example, is mostly about matching work-related accessories to specific work outfits. ("Architects draw up big buildings," I am informed, via a caption beneath a drawing of a Barbie in a pastel dress and a fitted leather jacket: architect clothing, as we all learned in The Fountainhead. I'm shown four different Job Accessories options, and I pick a tube with some papers coming out of it. "Yes! Architects use blueprint holders to keep important blueprints safe," I am told. Wow. You learn something new every day.)
Wanting to teach girls that they can be whatever they want is certainly a laudable goal, but it's probably better to do so through focusing on what, specifically, women can accomplish in certain careers — not about how they look while doing so. Turning a career-encouraging exercise into a dress-up puzzle sort of defeats the purpose; at the very least, it's a hugely redundant message. While young girls are not often encouraged to go into STEM fields or to seek out executive positions, they're bombarded on a daily basis with messages teaching them to value their physical appearances above all else and to covet princess-y dress up shit. You can't really combat that cultural tendency by replicating it.
In addition to this, the usual criticism abounds: both the Campaign for a Commercial-Free Childhood and the Center for a New American Dream have encouraged Girl Scouts USA to break ties with Mattel, claiming that Barbie is a "terrible role model" for young girls. "While Mattel and the Barbie brand benefit enormously from GSUSA's endorsement, the partnership harms girls. In addition to encouraging sexualization, the Barbie brand idealizes a dangerously impossible body type," said the Campaign for a Commercial-Free Childhood in a petition, citing research that shows that girls who play with Barbies at a young age are more likely to express dissatisfaction with their bodies.
The Campaign further argues that the Girl Scouts/Barbie website is "little more than an interactive ad" and that several of the Career Outfits that Barbie wears on the website "are worn by actual Barbies available for purchase." Independent research confirms that I Can Be an Architect Barbie comes with her own diminutive "blueprint holder," that classic architect accessory I learned about today, and that she's wearing the exact outfit I saw her in during the game. Of the other outfits I was shown during the "career game," several appear on the "Barbie Careers" section of the Mattel.com store. They should just change every doll's official name to I Can Be an Aspirational Consumer to eliminate confusion.
"We are tying the fun girls have playing with Barbie to an opportunity to gain insight into the careers of today and tomorrow, through patches and discovery along the way," Girl Scouts of the USA CEO Anna Maria Chávez said in a statement. Hey, who knows, maybe it will yield an army of pink-bespectacled career women to chip away at the glass ceiling in work-appropriate garb.
Image via AP.