The feminist obsession with Barbie dolls seems odd at first glance. Whether it is their compulsion to create ugly feminist Barbie or Computer Engineer Barbie, we see a great deal of focus on make-believe for a group of grown women. But feminism at its core is very much about make-believe, and feminists have demonstrated an incredible capacity to treat make-believe as if it were reality.
You can see this historically with the feminist/media creation of Amelia Earhart. After Charles Lindbergh captured the world’s imagination by flying solo across the Atlantic in an aircraft he had custom built for the flight, feminists wanted to show that women could do that too. Earhart was selected because she looked the part and had a pilot’s license. However while she looked the part, she was not a gifted pilot:
There is no denying that Earhart had difficulty learning to fly. It took her more than 15 hours of flight time and nearly a year to solo the Kinner, and she had a number of mishaps afterward, most of them during landings. As one biographer noted: “Unfortunately, though highly intelligent, a quick learner, and possessed of great enthusiasm, Amelia did not, it seems, possess natural ability as a pilot.”
But skill as a pilot wasn’t needed for what Earhart’s media handlers had in mind. They commissioned two men to fly her across a short span of the Atlantic in a Fokker Tri Motor. After Earhart did her part by looking pretty in the passenger seat while the menfolk did the flying, her media handlers triumphantly dubbed her “Lady Lindy”, threw her a ticker tape parade, and arranged an invitation to the White House to meet President Calvin Coolidge. As a newly minted feminist icon, Earhart then wrote a book and gave lectures about her experience riding across the Atlantic. It could be no other way, as The World History Project explains in Amelia Earhart becomes first woman to fly across the Atlantic:
Since most of the flight was on “instruments” and Amelia had no training for this type of flying, she did not pilot the aircraft. When interviewed after landing, she said, “Stultz did all the flying—had to. I was just baggage, like a sack of potatoes.” She added, “…maybe someday I’ll try it alone.”
But make believe is good enough for feminists, which brings us back to Barbies. Back in July of 2013 Jessica Wakeman wrote an article at The Frisky about her failed attempt to play feminist Barbie with her nieces. Wakeman wanted to pretend Barbie was a pediatric oncologist:
I pulled a naked Barbie from a box and dressed her in a yellow gown. (Barbie’s closet seems to be entirely gowns and miniskirts.) Then I announced, “My Barbie is a doctor.”
I cleared my throat. “She’s a pediatric oncologist. That means she helps kids with cancer. She graduated at the top of her class from Yale. No, Harvard. She is trying to find the cure for lymphoma.”
But her nieces didn’t want to play pediatric oncologist Barbie. They wanted Barbie to be focused on girly things like fashion, hairstyles, and meeting Mr. Right. No matter how many times Wakeman tried to return to the feminist narrative, her nieces always steered back to traditional girl areas of focus:
Elly’s Barbie then started “doing” my Barbie’s hair. I tried again. “Maybe one day, she’ll run for office,” I mused. “She could be a senator. She could sit on the Senate Judiciary Committee.”
“I like her gown,” Mackenzie replied.
What is so unintentionally comical about Wakeman’s piece is that there were two games of make-believe going on. One game had her nieces imagining Barbie going to balls, dressing in the latest fashion, and attracting prince charming. The other game of make-believe had Wakeman imagining herself as possessing great professional gravity and as a feminist role model for young girls to follow. Ironically Wakeman lives in the very world her nieces wanted to play in, she was just too busy playing make-believe to see it. In the real world Wakeman is a staff writer for a gossip site, not a senator or a doctor. The first five main categories in The Frisky’s banner are:
Had Wakeman only played Barbie the way she has played her real life and not her make-believe life, her nieces would have been delighted.
Update: It gets better.