“All I ever wanted was a ballerina Barbie…”
So many little girls watching Debbie Jellinsky’s monologue in The Addams Family Values could empathise with her plaintive yet unrepentant reasoning behind torching her parents to death for mistakenly buying her Malibu Barbie, thus catalysing a life’s work of avarice and murder. Described by Eric Clark in his book, The Real Toy Story: Inside the Ruthless Battle for Britain’s Youngest Consumers as the“plastic princess of capitalism,” Barbie has been perched at the top of many a young crazed consumer’s Christmas and birthday list. As a small plump brunette, a veritable sponge for neon advertising and pink-themed peer pressure, I had close to 100 new or inherited Barbies in different states of garish glamour or nonchalant undress, arranged in a worrying pageant of loveliness for their bigamous suitor Action Man (although sources from Toy Story 3 say they are back together, Ken was deemed far too weedy as a lover despite his and Barbies fifty year on/off relationship). The dolls struggled through my nascent years of adolescence, either falling prey to my little sisters ruthless decapitations (ragged necks painted bloody with nail polish and strung up in front of the treehouse) whereas I furtively lay them in scandalous yet uninspired variations of the missionary position on the doorstep of my local crush. Her pristine, unerotic, Aryan generic perfection was heralded as the ideal by the fanatical conservative child and a feminist nightmare by any liberal parent fearing for the sanity of their zealously confused progeny.
Since the launch of Barbie in 1959 by creator Ruth Handler and Toy Superpower, Mattel, she has been through a number of gently changeable manifestations with the new drive, confirmed by the toy agent itself, now capitalising on the social conscience of so called “millennial moms” with reference to their new lines in diverse body shapes and ethnicity. Barbie has been no stranger to criticism and controversy. A famous University Central Hospital of Helsinki study revealed that Barbie, without the requisite 17 to 22 % body fat could not menstruate. Her slinky pins would be unable to hold her up; instead she must lie bedazzled until lifted up by her eunuch paramour. One of my favourite backlashes was one organised in 1993 by the notorious Barbie Liberation Party who performed a surgery on 300-500 talking G.I Joes and Barbie dolls, switching the voice boxes and returning them to the shops. It was, however, one of her most recent incarnations has shown up how insanely out of touch the toy agent is. The furore began with the hilarious blog by author Pamela Ribon entitled ‘Barbie F*cks It Up Again.’ After a visit to her friend with young Barbie-loving children, Pamela was shown the book, Barbie: I Can Be A Computer Engineer which shows Barbie haplessly erasing the memory drive on her sister Skipper’s requisite sparkly pink laptop drive (who’s unbelievable sisterly vengeance comes in the form of a friendly pillow fight) in her attempt to design some images of a game about puppies for computer class.
She is of course unable to either fix the laptop or complete her homework task by herself without a male influence- “I’ll need Steven and Brian’s help to turn it into a game”- and finally takes credit for the men’s work, showing what an inept, manipulative liar she really is. In frustrated response to the book, Californian computer science engineer Kathleen Tuite set up a ‘Barbie Feminist Hacker’ Tumblr site. The site went viral with memes of a vigilant feminist Barbie getting her own back on the men and showcasing her computer prowess. Finally Mattel have got the gist and developed an awesome new sartorially neutral ‘Game Developer’ doll, complete with a non gender- specific laptop manifesting real code from educational program Alice.
Hackers are an interesting style choice for Barbie. On screen there have been some wonderful female protagonists, their fashion choices very much adhering to the alternative or niche. When Neo in The Matrix followed the ‘White Rabbit’, he came face to face with elegantly assured, aerodynamic, Trinity with a refined wet hair slick, slender figure demurely streamlined in leather, her capacity for knowledge, intelligence and information the initial turn-on for him. A kindred spirit may be found in the brilliant Lisbeth in The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo. Fearsomely feral, sexually fluid and thriving on a trash diet of frozen pizza and calculated revenge, her eidetic memory charges the ensuing events, restoring justice to an unjust society. Angelina Jolie, in one of her earliest films Hackers completes the trend of crop-haired, lush-lipped, black- clad hacker-babes, her appearance and apparel defined by a proudly practical uniform. A final shout- out should go to lil’ Lex in Jurassic Park, whose prodigious computer skills arguably save the rest of the team. Much like real life female hackers such as Raven Adler, alias ‘Hacker Fairy,’ who are loathe to allow their gender to overshadow their profession, the fact that they are women is one of the least important aspects of them in a world where intelligence and capability is primary. An environment in which encryption and coding is swathed by anonymity, women can thrive on an equal standing regardless of physicality, beauty or desirability. Courage, anarchy and equality overshadow tired preoccupations with the banal or trivial that are still consistently and needlessly addressed in mainstream women’s magazines.
This is perhaps the most refreshing aspect about Game Developer Barbie. Instead of parroting now infamous phrases like “Math is Hard,” she is now casually able to access a wealth of knowledge and understanding. Little girls will always love Barbie- I still love Barbie- but Mattel have finally understood their responsibility in opening up the possibilities of young women’s futures. Unlike the generic beauty queen wish of “world peace,” Barbie can now aim for world domination. Game Developer Barbie, with her graphic T Shirt, sparkling white trainers and hip oversized glasses makes me want, as now defunct band Aqua sang, to be a “Barbie Girl, in a Barbie World.”
Words by Joanna Troha