Monday, April 13, 2009
On the Barbie doll
Perhaps dolls are one of the oldest toys that can be found among archeological objects. I have seen in a museum a roman "pupa" and also Egyptian dolls (quite a thing that we now use the word "pupa" for the early stage in the develop of some insects). All of these dolls are representations of babies or children and clearly they represent dramatic playing so children learn by playing the real roles of adult life. Thus, as felines learn the art of hunting pretending fight with the other cubs in the litter, little girls used to learn the concept of maternity, playing with dolls. In other words, doll playing used to be a instinctive behavior inherited from our primate past. Now, what's all about the Barbie doll, which does not seem to fulfill such instinct? I have been thinking what does she represent and how it found such place in our culture. Barbie dolls appear in the American society as a sort of post war toy, roughly at the time when women left their houses and became an essential part of the working force. Feminism as a movement dates from the beginning of the 20th century but became a practical issue during the same period when women began to fully support their families with their work. Under this context maternity became an out of date concept, being replaced by the idea of the working woman, no longer motherhood an accepted game, since a mother is primarily the sales manager of a very important company rather than a mother. Now the paradox: dramatic playing is pretending to be what we will be doing when adulthood comes; rather than a doll, girl should be playing with toy computers or mobile phones to pretend to be their mothers! Instead, doll playing is not abandoned in the same way than such sales manager cannot simply forget that she is a woman and also a mother. The solution is the "voodoo" projection of the dramatic playing to the doll, transforming the baby doll in a sales manager doll. So Barbie replaces the pretending daughter for a pretending mother, subtle changing the dynamic of our instinctive background. It is not clear whether this development is positive or negative, there is not enough data to assess this, but it is clear from the way that children are growing faster and Barbie dolls are hated and tortured by angry children, that it is indeed a deep change in our collective subconscious.