October 2005

Melissa Fischer


Experts Agree: Barbie is a Slut

Some recent books highlight girlhood’s splendor, and with them comes an increasing awareness surrounding two very important facts. The first is that our preparation for womanhood and the formation of ideas about being female begins long before its actual onset. The second: Barbie is an absolute slut.

That’s right; Barbie is finally getting her comeuppance for being the saucy sex-fiend that I, for one, always knew she was. Now, more legitimate sources are confirming my amateur hypothesis. According to Sharon Lamb’s The Secret Lives of Girls, Barbie’s been dry humping Ken and even dabbled in some soft-core S&M for years now: “Barbie dolls help girls express what they don’t have words for yet, chiefly their sexual interest, which helps them to distance themselves from it at the same time. They can remain good girls while Barbie is the slut.”

Not only was Barbie the slut in my childhood world, but she was a full-on stripper, making her living in a thriving sex trade. Those carefully chosen outfits were soon cast aside as she kicked her long legs skyward. Where was Ken in all of this? In absentia. Ken was relatively tame, with his decidedly boring, non-brushable hair and limited wardrobe choices.

Seems Barbie was only masquerading as a doll, when in fact she was a Petri dish for the dramatization of numerous Madonna/whore scenarios; Sally Sugarman’s essay in Rituals and Patterns in Children’s Lives documents that “Barbie was date-raped by Ken,” and that rape is a recurrent theme in Barbie doll play, as are pregnancy, incest, and abuse.

While acting out rape scenes seems not so playful, the fact that it happened with apparent frequency seems like an important detail on many levels. I’ll be the first to admit that I don’t really know what to make of all this Barbie mayhem. I mean, maybe having a Barbie doll is a harmless rite of passage, a medium we use to channel little girl unspeakables. Then again, maybe she’s the plasticized spawn of the devil, a Ouija board through which the most damaging of social messages are materialized. Whatever she may be, it’s certain that she’s firmly planted in the memories of a multitude that once called themselves girls. Now Barbie serves as a cerebral landmark along our path to womanhood, an object we can recall when we need to remember our own history.

However, it isn’t the presence of Barbie I’m frequently reminded of when I survey my childhood, but rather the absence of the kind of girl-empowerment available on the shelves now. For one, Stefanie Iris Weiss’ The Beauty Myth: A Guide for Real Girls will be pamphletized and distributed to all when I become King. Weiss distills the heart of Naomi Wolf’s best ideas into a YA friendly format that’s both accessible and comprehensive. Her approach is personal and intimate, frequently manifesting a voice that’s not unlike some beloved, nurturing friend of the family. She calls on readers to “boycott magazines that don’t cater to real girls,” and to find empowerment through “reading, reading, reading,” and “writing, writing, writing,” as well as sharing and talking.

Most impressive is Weiss’s inclusion of numerous lists of references: for reading, she mentions Ibsen’s A Doll’s House, BUST Magazine, and Mary Pipher’s Reviving Ophelia. For help, she includes contact info for the American Anorexia and Bulimia Association, the National Women’s Health Network, and the Violence Against Women Office.

Weiss also touches on the Barbie issue, providing her measurements: “If Barbie were a real woman, she would have a forty-two-inch bust, an eighteen-inch waist, and thirty-three inch hips” -- Just like me!

Surely I jest, but not when it comes to Courtney Macavinta and Andrea Vander Pluym’s Respect: A Girl’s Guide to Getting Respect & Dealing When Your Line Is Crossed. This book is full of valuable information made playful with a maga-book feel: short essays, lots of illustrations, and blurbs, quotes, and bullet points abound. Macavinta and Vander Pluym include notes on the history of women’s rights in their guidebook, and ask such important questions as “does the dieting trend weaken your Power?”

Especially wallop-packing is the mini-essay, “Retrospect: Shhh, it’s not ok to talk about female sexuality.” It seems to me that no matter how much my peers shout about being liberated, any sex talk on the part of women, much less -- dare I say it -- in the presence of men, is totally reprehensible. Maybe it’s the verbal equivalent of the male gaze -- we’re supposed to embody it and be oblivious of it (or at least pretend to) at the same time. The authors write, “Sex has historically been a male domain, where guys are free to want sex, go after it, and talk about it (even in the most disrespectful ways). Females, on the other hand, have historically been told to stay pure and to stay quiet. To express sexual desire or act on it outside of what is socially acceptable can still get a girl labeled as a ‘slut’ or ‘ho.”

Respect features a sizeable chunk of pages devoted to listing references with categories like “Helplines,” “Body and Health,” “Education and Learning,” and “Equal Rights.” If you aren’t already convinced of this book’s potential for influencing budding feminists, I’ve gotta tell you: herein, myths are dispelled, q’s are a’ed, and all is done in a format clever enough to hold even the most frenetic of teenage attention spans.

The Secret Lives of Girls: What Good Girls Really Do—Sex Play, Aggression, and Their Guilt by Sharon Lamb
Free Press
ISBN: 0743201078

Rituals and Patterns in Children’s Lives edited by Kathy Merlock Jackson
University of Wisconsin Press
ISBN: 0879728736

Coping with the Beauty Myth: A Guide for Real Girls by Stefanie Iris Weiss
Rosen Publishing Group
ISBN: 0823930335

Respect: A Girl’s Guide to Getting Respect & Dealing When Your Line Is Crossed by Courtney Macavinta & Andrea Vander Pluym
Free Spirit Publishing
ISBN: 1575421771