Acknowleging Barbie has a tangible influence on young children (mostly girls) isn’t a new idea. Many people have studied Mattel’s Barbie line of dolls to investigate if, and inevitably how, Barbie helps exemplify preferred gender roles for young girls.
Slashfood brought a new Barbie playset in the “I CAN BE” line to my attention. Each of these playsets has a theme playing on the idea that young Barbie (and, vicariously by example, the young child playing with the Barbie playset) can aspire to have her life’s dreams fulfilled in one of several types of careers.
Here’s a list of the ones I could find:
- Barbie I CAN BE a TV Show Chef
- Barbie I CAN BE a Baby Doctor (comes in both Caucasian and Black skin colors)
- Barbie I CAN BE a Newborn Baby Doctor
- Barbie I CAN BE a Zoo Doctor
- Barbie I CAN BE a Seaworld trainer
- Barbie I CAN BE a Pet Vet
- Barbie I CAN BE a Dog Walker
- Barbie I CAN BE a Preschool Teacher
- Barbie I CAN BE a Teacher
- Barbie I CAN BE an Art Teacher
- Barbie I CAN BE a Gymnastics Coach
- Barbie I CAN BE a Dentist
- Barbie I CAN BE a Space Camp
- Barbie I CAN BE a Baby Photographer
- Barbie I CAN BE a Babysitter
- Barbie I CAN BE a Dance Teacher
- Barbie I CAN BE a Swim Instructor
- Barbie I CAN BE a Pet Boutique Owner
- Barbie I CAN BE a Ballet Teacher
- Barbie I CAN BE a Cake Baker
- Barbie I CAN BE a Bride (brown and blonde hair Barbies)
- Barbie I CAN BE a Racecar Driver
- Barbie I CAN BE a Rock Star
Of the playsets listed above, all but perhaps a few (the bridal set, babysitting, and dog walking) requires some kind of training past high school. Sure, you could luck into being a good baker and work somewhere fabulous like Ace of Cakes. Or, you could work 3rd shift making cakes from boxes for a chain grocery store like Wal-Mart. Which requires a tour of the store’s kitchen and an introduction to equipment, not a degree from a school of culinary arts. You could also luck into being a pretty decent photographer, if as a hobby you learn how to use a really nice camera and have a certain amount of creativity inside of you. But, going to a 2-year program at a local college, or even a 4 year program at a university can make you a pretty good photographer.
But why a BABY photographer? Almost every set involves children to some degree. Coach? Children. Ballet teacher? Most likely children. The sets come with various types of children, from newborn baby dolls for the baby doctor set to a Skipper type doll for some of the others. These sets limit Barbie’s expertise to dealing with children and fluffy pets, or cooking in some way—All of which are traditional domestic roles in the home that have been gussied up to be imaginative. The same goes for the baby doctor. Perhaps here there’s a familiarity factor being introduced. You’re a kid. You go to a kid doctor. And the playset says, “HEY KID! You can be that kid doctor someday!” Oncologist Barbie and Nephrologist Barbie may not relate as well as Baby Doctor Barbie.
To me, the playsets are screaming, “DREAM BIG little girl, but be prepared to settle for real life!” so that when real life happens, it isn’t such a shocker. And, finally, you can still live vicariously through all the reality TV shows you currently watch with your parents! Like being a rock star, or a race car driver, or a cake baker, or a TV chef! I could probably argue that a reality TV show exists for most of the careers in the I CAN BE playsets. I’m just hoping that kids want to be a rock star because of Hannah Montana instead of Rock of Love. But in those two examples, I’m honesty not sure which is worse. And Danica Patrick is a pretty decent role model (a woman breaking into what is certainly a man’s world), but the realities of becoming a race car driver are quite slim. As is becoming a TV show chef or a cake baker of Food Network standards.
I can see some patterns in the sets. For example, the babysitting and dog walking sets might be an attempt at visualizing one’s self as an older child, but not yet an adult, ie, teenager. You’re older, not the little kid anymore, you are taking care of someone else instead of someone taking care of you. Then you have the high school/college summer jobs, like swim instructor, and depending on the ages of the kids being taught, perhaps even the ballet/gymnastics sets as well.
I admit that Investment Banker Barbie may not be the most exciting doll. And Space Camp is a tangible, relate-able activity, whereas Space Teacher or Astronomer might not be so accessble in terms of understanding what it is a kid is really dreaming about. Astronaut Barbie, however, should be a classic and there’s no reason why Barbie can’ be an Astronaut instead of just settling for going to Space Camp.
Are the days of Teen Talk Barbie saying, “Math is tough!” and “Shopping is fun!” really gone? Or is Mattel transitioning into “Yeah, ladies, you have a few more rights and it’s okay to dream big, but in reality, math is tough, and you’d better be prepared to settle”?
What’s even more interesting is that people (presumed children?) can vote on what Barbie can be next! According to the website, Barbie has held over 120 careers in her lifetime, and the new choices are Surgeon, Environmentalist, Architect, News Anchor, and Computer Engineer.
Wow. All but News Anchor are some pretty serious jobs. Although, I view environmentalist as more of an attitude unless you work for the EPA or are on Capital Hill lobbying for change. That is a big deal. And there’s more specificity with the medical career (surgeon) and there’s definitely more math involved (architect and computer engineer).
I’m going to vote for Architect. So little girls can help build the HGTV dream home in 2030.