The Barbie Curse


I went through my girlhood without the benefit of a Barbie doll. I suppose, I didn’t develop a desire for a Barbie doll, because I missed the requisite early years of Barbie indoctrination by virtue of having had the good fortune of growing up in a country still struggling to feed its citizens after losing WW II. Thus I was spared little plastic feet paralyzed in a perpetual high-heels position. I did receive my first training in anatomy at an early age, but not through a doll, Barbie or otherwise. To supplement our nosh, my mother’s game warden cousin occasionally shared the rabbits with us, he had to shoot in the line of duty. While ‘helping’ to dress these rabbits, and for you Barbie aficionados, this doesn’t mean we put little outfits on the carcasses, my father explained the different tissues, organs and skeleto-muscular relationships to me. Thanks to these bloody sessions, in which we followed the path of shot-gun pellets through the torn tissues with a probe, like a preschool version of CSI Miami (except we already knew the perp), I came to understand more about joint function and body proportions before kindergarten, than Barbie designers ever will.

I am of course fully aware that Barbie dolls are meant to look as they do, which makes it even worse. What set me off on this anti-Barbie crusade today is a Facebook post. How did we ever manage our pet peeves before Facebook? Anyway, here in Costa Rica the winter months of the northern hemisphere’s calendar are our summer months, including a long summer vacation for school children, stretching from early December to early February. Toward the end of the school year, many celebrations and award ceremonies are taking place, as you can imagine.

When a Facebook request for help went out yesterday, we learned that the parents and teachers of a class of first graders needed help with the kid’s end-of-year graduation party. The funds available, previously raised by parents & teachers, were not sufficient to buy presents for all students. A tough situation, which was solved very quickly. Our large expat community loves to play in loco grand-parentis and generously extends a helping hand whenever needed. Enough people pitched in immediately so that all the students will receive a present, plus additional volunteers stepped up to help out with party preps. Pretty nice, makes you feel all warm and fuzzy. Yes, but I also had a strong negative reaction.

As anyone knows, who has ever raised a child, many school activities require heavy-duty parental participation throughout the school year. I know a teacher in one of the local elementary schools, who has a child attending a different school. She does fund-raising for both schools in her spare time! Here in our small town a number of families also struggle to afford basic school supplies and uniforms. Money is short everywhere, so community support is hugely important and gladly given when possible. My negative gut reaction to this cry for support on Facebook arose from specific information given in the post.

The original money raised for the graduation party went to buy ‘toys for the boys’. Not toys for so and so many children, maybe in alphabetical order, no, toys for the boys. That sentence just rubbed me the wrong way. As did the request to buy Barbie dolls for the girls. There may have been reasons to first buy trucks with big wheels in bulk, some discount offer, maybe? But to top it off with Barbie dolls to reward academic success feels just so wrong.

By reason of uniformity, all girls must be gifted with a Barbie doll, we were instructed so that no girl should feel deprived if another one receives something perceived as superior. We could now enter into a deep discussion of all sorts of pros and cons relating to education, child rearing, school politics, geopolitical statistics or a hundred other subjects, including the hidden educational value of Barbie dolls. Instead, I’d like you to consider the fact that girls are still taught differently than boys. These little humans, who are so eager to learn and who believe in their invincibility, are being molded into pretty girls, trained to just be quiet – and remain so into adulthood, please. Isn’t it true that women, who aggressively go after their goals are regarded as obnoxious bitches?

My sadness and my anger are prompted by the fact that the mothers and teachers, who work so hard all their lives, ask for gifts for these little ones that perpetuate gender stereotyping for yet another generation. The ease with which the Barbies were chosen, supports my belief that they still represent the default setting for girls in much of our world, imprinting the next generation of mothers and teachers, who will then go on to keep the following generation of girls imprisoned in the glossy plastic shell of distorted prettiness.

All children should be treated equally, therefore no boy should be forced to prefer a fire engine over a doll either. Not too long ago pink was the color for boys and blue was a girl’s signature color. Let’s run with that, shall we? And by the way, if we’re looking for something to give to a child, a book is a magical present. It opens doors into infinite options of growth, understanding, and imagination. Lego sets, jigsaw puzzles, or tickets for a magic show at Gelly’s could be other great possibilities right here in town for either girls or boys. But in a pinch, if the boy’s toys have already been purchased, please, by the wisdom of Pallas Athena, at least ask for a Superwoman doll!

Before I send this off to you, I’d like to attach a link to a fabulous organization called TeenSmart. TeenSmart International offers pre-teen children to young adults a way to develop self-reliance and to adopt smart behavior choices for life. Please check out this non-profit organization working here in CR and in Nicaragua. There’s a fundraiser going on right now … see, I told you, it never ends!!!

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