A doll is a doll is a doll

Melissa Silverstein, founder and editor of one of my favorite blogs Women and Hollywood is pissed off about the Katniss Everdeen Barbie doll. She hates Barbie.

Silverstein writes:

There are many Barbie fans in the world.  I am not one of them.  Yes, Barbie does have many aspirational dolls.  There even is President Barbie.  There is also TV newscaster; vet; Soccer player; doctor.  There is even an Angela Merkel Barbie doll.

But for every aspirational Barbie there is Ballerina Barbie; Barbie Tea Party Princess Doll; Barbie Royal Dress Up Doll; Beautiful Fairy Barbie Doll;  Princess Bride Doll; Beach Doll.

I hate Barbie too, and I get where Silverstein is coming from. I attended a conference of female architects when Architect Barbie came out and they all talked about how stupid looking she was. I couldn’t agree more. With her A line dress, ever present smile, and pink house, she looks like any other Barbie. She looks like she wouldn’t be caught dead wearing the white hard hat that sits at her feet.

I’ve also blogged about these idiotic “aspirational” Barbies that come with McDonald’s Happy Meals. All I see here are hair and smiles. I can’t tell these Barbies apart. Their “aspirations” also look like props.

Here’s Katniss Everdeen. Yesterday, I blogged about how much I like her.

Mattel could have put the Katniss doll in any of the dresses or outfits that Cinna, her stylist, made for her. One thing I loved about “The Hunger Games” movie was how well Jennifer Lawrence portrayed Katniss’s discomfort and awkwardness when traditional femininity was forced on her. Lawrence played this disconnect so well that when critics noticed it, they mislabeled her too fat to play the part.

Remember Mulan, the most feminist of the Disney princesses? In the movie, Mulan like Katniss, hated being dressed in ceremonial “princess” wear. Yet, almost every single Mulan doll, or image in a coloring book or on a T shirt or diaper, she is wearing the dress that she hated in the movie. And she’s smiling while wearing it.

One thing I love about the Katniss Barbie is that she is not smiling.

But Silverstein makes a great point: why should we be grateful that Katniss actually looks like Katniss?

It’s like when I complain about a LEGO minifig and people say, “At least its not a Bratz doll.”

So those are my choices?

I wish girls had many more options of brave and heroic females to play with. I wonder if Katniss has curled feet under those boots. But mostly, when I look at this doll, I’m thinking: What is she about to DO? That’s a great question to ask my three daughters. I’m grateful that she’s out there for all kids, boys included, to play with.

Here’s where I disagree with Silverstein. She writes:

“I hate that we need dolls for aspiration.”

But most kids use dolls for “aspiration,” that is imaginary play. If boys play with dolls we may call them something different: “LEGO minifigs” or “action figures” or “robots,” but a doll is a doll is a doll.

Dolls are tools that kids use to make up stories. Kids need tools to make up stories. I’ve seen my kids make up narratives using their fingers or sticks or cheerios, so those tools don’t absolutely have to be humanish, but it helps. It helps me, as a mom. I’ve complained to places like Pepperidge Farm about its male characters and sexist narratives: give me something more to work with, people. I’m creative, but help me out. Also, I’m better with a humanish tool than a finger or a stick. I know I can make up stories with this doll, exciting adventures. I know my kids can. She’s a tool I want. I’ll just call her an action figure.

6 thoughts on “A doll is a doll is a doll

  1. I have had Barbies since age 12. I Knew that they were only FANTASY and not reality. Over three decades without being confused about the two worlds. GI Joe never made me go to a gym or join the military. We watch movies that we know that are so futuristic that it will never happen in our life time. Why? It is entertainment. We escape for that period from the reality of our lives into the joy of fantasy. I never use Barbie as a standard for real females.

  2. Hi, interesting post with lots to think about. I have grown boys and never had to think about the Barbie issue.

    I’ve quoted and linked to your post on my new page about The Hunger Games Barbie. If that is not okay I will remove it right away.

  3. The Katniss doll is great – you know why ? She can straighten her arms, at least it looks like that ! All the barbies I had, had their arms in angles at their side or could not bend them at all. Let´s not forget the impossible feet. Maybe Katniss´s feet are different ?

    And yes, we definitely need more “action woman dolls”.

    Good point.
    Regards, Trip

  4. I love the Katniss doll. She’s tough! I remember wishing the Princess Leah doll had been as cool as Han Solo. This doll will be super fun to dream up adventures with…we can’t hate her b/c she’s related to Barbie.

  5. I read Melissa’s post earlier and–while I agreed with much of it–found myself bothered by the conclusion but couldn’t put my finger on why. You nailed it! A doll doesn’t have to be (and really shouldn’t be) symbolic of anything negative; it can be a great tool of creativity as long as “doll” doesn’t become shorthand for a series of stereotypes. “A doll is a doll is a doll.” Love it.

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