A ViewPoint by Rev. Deb Vaughn
At first I thought it was an article from The Onion. Sadly, no. (Though The Onion did have fun with it at Barbie’s expense.)
This is a carefully crafted marketing decision by Mattel. And the Girl Scouts.
The Girl Scouts are allowing Mattel to co-opt their brand for the measly investment of $2 million over the next three years. In the United States, there are 2.3 million Girl Scouts (non-adult members, according to their national website). The so-called “investment” breaks down to a lousy 87 cents per Girl Scout. $0.87 for what? For a hyper-sexualized, pink-uniformed cookie seller?
I am all for girls exploring every possible career option. I don’t mind seeing them use their imaginations. But my beef is this: in linking the Girls Scouts to Barbie, this now cheapens the Girl Scouts’ branding from the outdoorsy-type of gal of my childhood and youth to a glam-obsessed party girl.
My summers at Girl Scout camp were spent hiking, canoeing, sleeping under the stars, singing around the campfire, and cooking foods with questionable success. Linking the muddy, smoky days of summer with pink skin-tight capris, heavy make-up, high-heeled hiking books and purses is just a bit far-fetched. In fact, the very part of Girl Scouts that I loved the most—camping—seems to have disappeared. At least, it has with Barbie.
This promotes a very poor, hyper-sexualized body image.
As a feminist, I am also annoyed that the unnatural female body image of Barbie is still being marketed to girls and pre-teens. Even supermodels and anorexia patients do not have Barbie’s anatomically impossible body. I’ll attempt to overlook that in the interests of promoting careers for girls’ interests and passions.
This is NOT the way to encourage STEM careers or leadership development for girls and young women.
Mattel says that they are entering into this “partnership” to help girls see the wide-open list of careers available to them. They point to their “curriculum” called “Be Anything, Do Everything.” They offer a downloadable activity booklet geared for girls who are Daisies and Brownies (age 5-8), as well as a patch, which girls can “earn.” The curriculum is supposed to help girls see themselves in careers that are not the traditional choices of women.
Says Anna Marie Chávez, Girls Scouts CEO, “We are tying the fun girls have playing with Barbie to an opportunity to gain insight into the careers of today and tomorrow, with patches and discovery along the way. Like Girl Scouts, Barbie is an American icon; together, we are teaching girls that their futures are wide open with possibilities, and that they can accomplish anything they set their sights on in their careers.” (More here.)
Somehow, I think that girls could be interested in careers other than dog walking and fashion.
I looked through 40 webpages of Barbie dolls and accessories on the Mattel website. The plethora of pink and lack of true career paths was rather clear; outside of mermaid, princess, bride and ballerina, Mattel has chosen to represent “careers Barbie” in the tried-and-true images of doctor, nurse, teacher, vet, zoo doctor and now (I kid you not) TV news reporter, singer, ice skater, cookie chef, soccer player, and the entrepreneur doll, who is sold with a tiny smart phone, purse, graphs, and briefcase.
But beyond this promotional double-talk is the bigger question: Must a woman be sexy, fashionable, smart, AND educated to be a success?
Our culture’s obsession with beauty, sexiness, and youth doesn’t need reinforcement by the Girl Scouts. If anything, scouts should be standard bearers of a counter-culture. That it’s great to try to be healthy, study hard, play hard and give back to your community. And that’s possible to do, even if you aren’t good at sports, are average in looks and scholarship, and are not a Wall Street mogul.
Girl Scouts used to focus on character development and team work. They emphasized personal faith, interests, and passions. Rarely were Scouts concerned about whether or not their accessories matched their backpacks. Being a friend, having fun, and learning how to work through a challenge— that was Scouting.
Mattel brags on their “investment” in girls as future leaders. Someone in the Mattel marketing department has wisely steered our attention from remembering that these girls are future customers. It’s a trend that consumer advocacy groups like the Campaign for a Commercial-Free Childhood have noted. And they object as well.
Creativity? Exploring careers? Entertaining possibilities? Absolutely!
Promoting an unhealthy (and unattainable) body image? Focusing on externals (hair, make-up, possessions)? No thanks! I’d rather encourage young women to learn to read and think critically, develop solid problem solving and math competencies, and develop their interpersonal skills. As a Christian feminist, I also want them to consider that they are image bearers of God, made in God’s image. They are uniquely gifted and tasked to help make the world a better place. I want to see them break out of stereotypical “pink” roles and embrace the multitude of possibilities ahead of them—no marketing strings attached!
P.S. Perhaps the rest of our society feels the same way, too. Second quarter profits for Mattel were down in 2014.
© 2014 by Deb Vaughn and Christian Feminism Today
Great analysis, Deb. I always imagined the Girl Scouts as a big tent, open to any kind of girl. The Barbie connection makes it seem less the case, as you point out.
Great article, Deb! I agree with everything you wrote. I hope you will send it to Mattel. It will help them get the message, along with profits going down.
According to Mattel, the reason why their profits are down is because they just purchased another large toy group. I’m not their CFO so I can’t parse that one out. However, the internet chatter by Girls Scout troop leaders is running about 2:1 against this “pinking” up. I think that GSUSA, who are conscious of their financial needs like every other non-profit, saw this as an “easy” way to get an infusion of cash. But in doing so, they cheapened their own brand.
Did you know that American Girl is a subsidiary of Mattel. That would have been a better choice.
Yes… American Girl dolls are indeed now owned by Mattel, but the dolls (and clothing/accessories) are more expensive and less mainstream. I suspect that Mattel went with the product with more placement and visibility.