Barbie and Bratz: Wars over defining girlhood
The subject on which I am writing may seem silly at surface, but it has serious implications. Often the children's movies are seen as trivial, but many times the message that is contained in them not only reaches the children but becomes formative to their personal development. I am writing about the recent commercial war between the Barbie and the Bratz.
For a long time Barbie has been the main doll toy for little girls. In recent times the message behind Barbie has come under scrutiny from feminist psychologists and social scientists as representing a cruel, destructive and homogenizing effect on girls. It has been seen as embodying a very narrow and very limiting concept of personal development, in which girls were being told that there is only one way to be - to be "perfect" like Barbie - with anything else being unacceptable and leading to rejection and failure.
On to the market bursts in the Bratz: Barbie's direct opposite. Bratz are girls who all come from unconventional backgrounds, who are strong in themselves, happy to be who they are, and work well with each other. Suddenly, the concept of what is beautiful, or what is excellent, or what is perfect, or what is desirable to be, undergoes a radical challenge. Whereas with Barbie the only acceptable way to such things is to be the embodiment of a cultural ideal, with Bratz the way to excellence is to be an unfoldment of one's gifts. And while both Barbie and Bratz posit a form of beauty, excellence and "coolness," the way to get to such things in the two are totally different and in many ways opposite of each other.
When faced with the Bratz challenge, the Barbie handlers responded with two artistic children's movies featuring Barbie: "The Princess and the Pauper" and "Swan Lake." What they appear to be doing is showing the origin of the Barbie ideal and attempting to make it appealing to children living today. An old ideal and a new ideal are clashing in many different ways, both culturally and commercially. And while the competition between Barbie and Bratz may seem silly or trivial, there is nothing trivial about the effects that both exercise over development of young girls.
Of course there are many ways toward excellence, the Barbie way and the Bratz way being only two of them. In fact, the more paths are available, the more accessible it becomes and for more people. There is room for both unfoldment of one's passion and gifts and for striving for one or another cultural ideal. And with there being many options, more girls are likely to find the way that is appropriate for them.