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Barbie Liberation

Anne Dalke's picture

One of the questions we played w/ yesterday was whether we are the dolls of the endless, or whether they they are ours (cf. Rose's musing, p. 222, "we're just dolls," with Morpheus' telling Desire, p. 226, "We of the endless are the servants of the living...we are their toys. Their dolls....").

In this context, I thought this story about the Barbie Liberation Organization (just uncovered by my co-teacher in Play in the City, Mark Lord) might amuse/interest/enbolden you. A number of activist-artists attained possession of Barbie and G.I. Joe Dolls, switched their voiceboxes, then re-boxed and returned them to store shelves. So some little girls got Barbie Dolls who talked like men about war and fighting, and some boys got "fighting man" dolls who would say (in a prissy girl voice), "Math is harrrd." Dolls have agency, too!

Here's film:


Elizabeth's picture

Gendering Toys

I think that there are a lot of examples of groups with the intent, or who publicize their intent, to “disrupt toys’ gender stereotypes,” but, like Piper, I just don’t think that the motions they’re going through are adequate.  The Barbie Liberation Organization provides a really interesting critique of gender roles in that they (physically) switch them. But, I also agree with Piper that the actions of the Organization aren’t a good way to check the really harmful characteristics of those roles, and how they are presented to kids. I don't actually think that the group is advocating for gender neutral toys or, given my impression of their analysis of the "movement," much questioning of the sentiments that the dolls are saying, just that people of different genders can say them. The Organization perpetuates the capitalist military industrial complex, something that is really harmful to feminism as a movement and as a force to protect people.

I think that there is a need for gender neutral toys and advertising. I also think that there's a need for toys (and their advertising) to allow for a lot of different gender expressions. The Barbie Liberation Organization isn’t the only one who’s doing this. A while back, a Swedish affiliate of Toys-R-US was also lauded for "gender neutrality," but what they really did was put guns in the hands of kids they wanted viewers to gender as girls and put dolls in the hands of kids they wanted viewers to gender as boys. BAM! Gender neutrality! But, in order for the catalog to even come close to “gender neutrality,” the viewer is put into the position of gendering the kids in the ads. (Guess what isn’t gender neutral?)

Here's a link to an article about the Swedish catalog in question:

pipermartz's picture


I love the idea of messing around the gender stereotypes of Barbies and G.I. Joes, but I was very startled by this advertisement! It has an eerie, propaganda, brainwashing air to it that makes me a little uncomfortable, especially because it is ridiculing the "brainwashing" ways of toy companies. Maybe the irony is intention? The "corrective surgery hospitals" sound quite terrifying and also imply this need for self-mutilation, which is not a pretty visualization. 

Although I support the effort to disrupt toys' gender stereotypes, this particular effort further emphasizes the two options for toys- girly girls and manly men! I'd be more supportive and engaged in an initiative aimed at the disemination of gender-neutral toys that were neither masculine or feminine if at all possible. Toys exist in these literal and metaphoric boxes that fail to encourage an end to the gender binary. It enforces this idea of a higher power controling and forcing us to mold our genders to their liking.