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Posts tagged ‘Dolls’

Smartees: The Career-Oriented Dolls

The Smartee Doll Franchise, picture from phillycollector.blogspot.com

 

On Christmas morning when I was around 10 years-old, I remember very vividly receiving a gift that was out of the norm. Being an average little girl of the 21st century, I had countless numbers of Barbies- Evening Wear Barbie, Wedding Barbie, Mermaid Barbie, and even a few Ballerina Barbies. However it was this Christmas morning in particular, as I slowly approached the difficult age where dolls would soon be considered “childish,” where I received a “Smartee” Doll. Her name was “Emily the Entrepreneur,” and her purpose was to help with the parents’ ever-present dilemma of toys and play being educational and purposeful.

The Smartee Doll Franchise was created by attorney Jennifer Hamlin and Jennifer Fine in October 2000, after Hamlin went to buy a doll for a friend’s daughter and felt surprised at the lack of career portrayal among the bodacious Barbies. The doll’s price was marked at $19.99, with each including: a book corresponding to their given career (complete with definitions of their career-type jargon), accessories such as stethoscopes, computers, and brief cases, a resume abstract, school diplomas for the doll’s profession, a casual outfit and an evening dress. The dolls also separate themselves from Barbie in their measurements. While they still exhibit a womanly body, and are the same height as a Barbie doll, the Smartee has larger thighs, hips, and waist.  ”But we’re not trying to replace Barbie,” Hamlin says. “We just want to be her smart friend.” (People.com)

Just as Handler had initially intended the Barbie doll to “Inspire American girls, in her words, to imagine ‘their lives as adults’ and to use ‘the dolls to reflect the adult world around them’,” (Chudacoff 173) Smartees allow their consumer to emulate an adult-life that today’s adults consider worthy and beneficial to young girls.

Smartees no longer seem to be a prevalent product in the doll market today, despite their tremendous appeal to influential women such as Oprah, and parents alike. Based off of Chudacoff’s theory of Barbie’s success due to her style which was defined by marketers rather than by parents, is there a chance the Smartee Dolls did not see the same popularity because the control of primary predilection does not seem to be the child?

 

The Barbie doll

Barbie representing the traditional Venezuelan dance of Joropo. Source: Barbie de Sonho (blogspot.com)

When I was younger, one of my favorite toys was the Barbie doll. Barbie was created by Ruth Handler, one of the founders of the very successful toy company Mattel. With a modest selling price of $3, Barbie was debuted on March 9, 1959 at the American International Toy Fair in New York City. Just a few months later, Barbie was flying off the shelves, as parents rushed to buy them for their daughters.

Ruth Handler designed Barbie with the goal of inspiring American girls to imagine “their lives as adults” (page 173). This is what Chudacoff refers to when he says that the Barbie doll exemplified the role of adult domestication in children’s play (page 173). More importantly, Barbie has always been a very innovative toy in terms of gender stereotypes. Throughout the years Barbie  has held over 125 careers, including those that have traditionally been held by men, such as astronaut, surgeon, CEO, Air force soldier, and countless others. Most recently, Mattel began the I Can Be… campaign, which shows Barbie as a computer engineer, a doctor, race car driver, and even an architect. This serves the very important purpose of broadening the scope of careers choices for girls and inspiring them to be anything they set their minds to. An article in Vogue magazine quotes Ruth Handler as saying:

“Barbie has always represented that a woman has choices. Even in her early years, Barbie did not have to settle for only being Ken’s girlfriend or an inveterate shopper,” creator Ruth Handler said. “I believe the choices Barbie represents helped the doll catch on initially, not just with daughters – who would one day make up the first major wave of women in management and professionals – but also with mothers.”

Despite Handler’s best intentions, Barbie has always had a problem with being culturally diverse. This is made obvious by Barbie’s predominantly Caucasian features. This might send the unfortunate message that a girl can be anything she wants, as long as she is white. The first effort to make Barbie more diverse came in the shape of “Colored Francie” in 1967. Colored Francie, however, proved to be a huge failure because she lacked any African American features and was essentially a white doll painted black. In recent years, however, Mattel has made a greater effort to make the Barbie doll more inclusive in terms of race, culture and ethnicity. As can be seen by the Dolls of the World collection,  Barbie is now a lot easier to relate to for white and colored girls all over the world. In fact, when I traveled to Venezuela over the summer, I was very happy to see a Venezuelan Barbie. I only wished I would have her when I was a little girl.

G.I. Joe: Great American Heroine?

Modern model of G.I. Joe's "Action Army" figure.

At a young age boys are easily intrigued by action and aggression, two general characteristics that often can be considered when describing what it means to be a man. One toy during my own childhood that embodied both of these attributes was the G.I. Joe. In 1964 Hasbro began production of the G.I. Joe line, creating four different variations of the toy to represent the four branches of the military: Action Army, Action Navy, Action Pilot, Action Marine. The fact that boys didn’t want to be accused of playing with dolls, a very effeminate pastime for girls, Hasbro made it a point to call the toys “action figures”. Today they retail for about twenty dollars, but back then they were inexpensive. These action figures weren’t like the little green army men portrayed in the movie Toy Story which could be so easily destroyed by demented toy torturers like Sid. G.I. Joes were tough. Measuring a foot in height, these action figures were harder to break, allowing boys to be more “playful” with their toys. Not only were they tall in stature, they were also bulky—G.I. Joes sported big muscles in order to carry big guns and heavy equipment—appealing to children’s early notion of “bigger is better”. In class we discussed how boys who play with toys specifically targeted for male children could possibly affect their ability to absorb a female’s perspective later on in life. I personally disagree with this statement as it regards G.I. Joes because action figures are aesthetically very similar to dolls played with by young girls as well. G.I. Joe has even launched a female version of the action figure, G.I. Jane, to target girls.

The “American Girl” Franchise

The original line of historical "American Girl" dolls.

When I was little, one of my favorite book series was the American Girl series. This collection of chapter books followed the lives of several young girls from different time periods and classes in American history – all hinging upon the common denominator of their titular national identity and exploring the story directly through the girls’ viewpoints. These books were created chiefly to advertise to children (more specifically girls) the line of character dolls upon which the American Girl company was originally built, in the same vein of such toy lines as Transformers and My Little Pony. Selling for upwards of a hundred dollars (and initially only available by mail-order) when you factor in toy accessories and doll dress-up, the American Girl dolls were expensive enough to require additional persuasion in the form of books, movies, and even games. After all,  parental resistance in the face of cost to satisfying a child’s preference for a particular character or story tends to wane the more enamored the child becomes with the pageantry of  a full product line.

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My Size Barbie

My Size Angel Barbie (1998)

Growing up I would have to say one of my favorite toys was the My Size Barbie. My parents bought me my first one for my birthday when I was around five or six. I named her Kimberly after the Pink Power Ranger and I played with her practically everyday. Like normal size Barbies, My Size Barbie was produced by Mattel. Now I didn’t play with Kimberly the way that Mattel probably envisioned for little girls. I would play gymnastics with her and I eventually broke one of her legs off. My parents sent her back and I got another one and still played with her rather roughly. I tried researching when the first My Size Barbie came out but I could not find the exact year. However I ran into some people selling their My Size Barbies dating back to as early as 1992. My Size Barbie was 36 inches tall and came with two outfits so the little girl and Barbie could wear and trade outfits. Mattel no longer makes My Size Barbie so I am not aware of the exact prices especially during the nineties. On eBay currently they range from $70-$200 depending on the model. Growing up I was not aware of the gender roles and stereotypes that My Size Barbie was pushing on little girls, which is probably why I played with Kimberly so unconventionally. Barbie was and still is the icon for what the “ideal woman” should be, which is beautiful, skinny, social, and mainly just concerned with her image and nothing else. As Gary Cross points out, toys throughout the centuries have been made to reflect “conventional work roles” for both girl and boy toys (Cross 49). Cross also states that the rise of dolls for girls to play with happened due to families having less children which resulted in doll play that taught “child-care skills necessary for future maternal roles” (Cross 54). Almost all my friends who were girls growing up had a My Size Barbie  and whenever they played with her they would either be princesses or mothers. In conclusion gender stereotyping of toys may not effect every child in the same way, but they continue to instill the mainstream social constructs of gender.

Barbie When I was Younger

Barbie doll

Barbie Doll (toysrus.com)

When I was younger I played with Barbie Dolls. I had the Barbie Dreamhouse, Ken, I had a lot of things pertaining to Barbie. Barbie was created by the American Business woman Ruth Handler. Both her and her husband, Elliot handler, and his business partner, Harold Matson, created the toy company “Mattel”. The Barbie Doll brand was created March 1959. Barbie had a bit of a slow start but is now one of the most sought after toys of children. Barbie Dolls were made so that young girls could play with them. We were able to dress them up however we wanted. There were and are a lot of accessories that go along with Barbie Dolls. They were made so that you would go out and get the doll as well as the many accessories that came along with them. Me as a child I enjoyed dressing up my dolls in all of the different clothes and playing with the dream car as well as the dreamhouse. Barbie Dolls as well as their accessories are anywhere between $14.49-$129.99 depending on what item you get. When we did the readings in class on the child archive museum, our article talked about the types of toys that were being played with by both genders. When discussing girl toys, it talked about how the toy played a part in explaining our gender roles. Little girls played with these toys and it taught them how to be young ladies. It taught them how to dress, cook, and clean. These toys taught and does teach us our roles in society.

American Girl- Dolls & Books.

 

American Girl Samantha Doll and Book (americangirl.com)

When I was 10 years-old, there was only one toy I truly desired for Christmas that year. More than anything, I wanted an American Girl Doll. Having had access to their line of books at my elementary school library, as well as my many friends who were mailed the monthly American Girl catalogues that displayed the latest accessories for your miniature pal, I was groomed to desire one of the delicate and interesting dolls. The dolls and their corresponding books series, were introduced by American Girl Company in 1986 (acquired by Mattel in 1998) with the intent of “introducing historical characters to give girls an engaging glimpse into important times in America’s past… Gentle life lessons throughout the stories remind girls of such lasting values as the importance of family and friends, compassion, responsibility, and forgiveness,” according to the American Girl website. Just as Sterne emphasizes the importance placed on play not only being entertaining, but also used as educational stimulation, the strongest selling point to the American Girl series is the fact that they represent historical eras of time. Not only are little girls combatting boredom with the dolls, but ideally, also learning historical information. As previously mentioned, the dolls are also supposed to emphasize a certain set of values to their girl consumers. According to an article in The New York Times, “This return-to-innocence approach has corporate appeal.” In 2004, the company had reached $350 million dollars in sales, and looked upon as a more suitable toy to Barbie (who ironically was also created and manufactured by Mattel.) Similar to the points Cross makes in “Modern Childhood, Modern Toys” concerning gender roles, the American Girl dolls not only emphasize the classic maternal qualities dolls often invoke, but also on what defines an American girl: responsible, compassionate, and age-appropriate.