To Barbie or Not To Barbie
We arrived at school this morning looking somewhat bedraggled. Barbie had lost a red shoe and while this shouldn't have affected the rest of the families’ appearance the piercing urgency of the situation had undone any semblance of neat and orderly dress.
When I explained how the Red Shoe had set in motion a series of catastrophes that ended with my 3-year-old wailing on my hip while my 6-year-old was prized away for assembly, the otherwise assembled parents expressed surprise that I had succumbed to buying Barbie.
It's the hegemony I explained. No I didn't. But it was.
Barbie was banned in my childhood home. This did not cause any of us to fixate on her in later life because, really, she is an archetype of the natural order, that, if suppressed, will rupture through our feminist superegos at any time. It may have left me with an indifference to accessorise, but feeling otherwise unscarred I thought I'd leave her out of my girls' gender construction, thank you very much.
It was not to be countenanced. Barbie brand hats, bags, pencils and trinkets inveigled themselves into deceptively wrapped birthday presents and of course could be found lurking in the Nana present-freight that regularly disgorges in our post.
The eldest seemed under whelmed by Barbie, so I conducted a Barbie experiment - without ethics approval - when she was three. I braved Toys R' Us and led her, like a sacrificial lamb down the Barbie Aisle, fully expecting her innocence to be shed.
'AAAAH!' a choir seemed to chorus from some unearthly Busby Berkeley set. The clouds parted and a sunburst of variegated shades of pink flooded my brain. I swear a coiffed unicorn pranced on its royal blue jointed legs and King Edward nodded stiffly under his Perspex crown. Did this surreal consumer arcade at all impinge her tender imagination? Not a bit. She careered through barking like Hairy Maclary from Donaldson's Dairy.
It was the realignment of friendships at crèche along the 'P' axis - Princess, Pony and Pink that brought home the full social significance of Barbie and made me relent. This saccharine smiling Voodoo Doll of hegemonic femininity defines a girlie community of shared interests. Barbie possession makes little girls into desirable friends. She enables a shared language, not to mention a shared ability to accessories crèche bags, gumboots, lunchboxes, potties, pull-ups, you name it. Barbie's been everywhere man, and she left her logo.
I don't mind lots of kids having different consumer interests, but when most kids have the same interests as determined by some toy corporation in California, then kids uninitiated into the latest blockbuster tie-in phenomena (pant), become not kids with different interests, but 'different' kids. I feel unnerved by the idea that toy corporation executives are trying to figure out my children’s’ ‘reptilian hot spot’ and sell toys ‘in code’ with certain emotions like ‘accepted’ and ‘loyal’. I wish they’d spend more time putting her legs on properly and designing sleeves her hand can fit through.
But having finally established herself in our home Barbie became a victim of my children's diabolical imaginations. And I noticed, not without malice, that she underwent similar ordeals in the play rituals of other little girls. Her tresses were shorn, she was hung by the neck, stripped and paraded through the local shopping mall and pelted with stones. If they'd burnt her at the stake and bound her feet she'd have completed the circuit of special punishments meted out to women across the ages.
Actually Barbie does have ridiculously bendy feet which children have been known to chew off and which lends her that extra spring when thwacking her head against a hard surface, I notice. But this ‘interpretive play’ gave me faith that there is precious and uncharted terrain in children's grey matter and it remains uninfluenced by toy corporations, and unknown to demographic database companies who track our every purchase and sell our consumer preferences to advertisers.
Nevertheless, the six-year-old's letter to Santa last year requested a 'cirrige (carriage) and ‘I wont a man'. She got her man, for who could deny a child with such precocious ambitions. Anyway, he's a good accessory for Barbie in his velvet half pants, embroidered frock coat and red satin cravat. He comes with a plastic rose.
The three year old is less 'interpretive' and more 'literal' in her Barbie play. She’s much offended that I refer to her as ‘Blurbie’. This morning no amount of cajoling that Barbie can be a barefoot Californian hippie chick, could put her Barbie world back together again, and nor could any of the King's men. She needs a touch of Feral Barbie specially kitted out in Nimbin, to develop a true appreciation of Barbie's post structural permeability of identity.
Tired of putting 5c in my swear jar for cursing under my breath about reattaching Barbie fairy dresses, super gluing Barbie shoes, reattaching Barbie legs (who can keep up with her unique ability to accessorise?) I took my girls to Kmart to see if you can get Mummy-friendly Barbie attire. I was thinking, maybe yearning, for frocks that 3-year-olds can get Barbie in and out of while Mummy reads the paper. Undisturbed.
Right then my six-year-old made a statement that gave me confidence they'd survive all the Barbie exposure. There's a space in between what toy corporations think kids like to play with and what kids’ brains make of those ideas where everything is decidedly ‘off code’ in marketing parlance. We wandered into the Brazt Doll Aisle, and were faced with a giant Bratz. 'Look Mummy', she said, 'that's the biggest Brat I've ever seen!' 'So it is!’ I marveled.