On The Gender Politics of Plastic Homunculi

Barbie vs He-Man

Well, you have to admit: the Barbie doll line certainly has experienced more than its share of controversies. Not all of these controversies revolve around Barbie’s dangerously unrealistic proportions, but that’s the focal point of this meme – not because the author is disgusted by the image Barbie projects, but because it gives him a perfect opportunity to besmirch the name of feminists. Oooh, feminists.

You can almost hear the snarl in the author’s voice as he writes about the bloated whining of those dastardly feminists, but it’s clear that he does not understand what feminism is about (No surprise there). It’s really quite simple: feminism is the belief that men and women should be treated equally. The feminist movement has been very clear on this point, and yet there are many who persist in the belief that feminists want to see men enslaved and women elevated to complete dominance. Well, it’s possible that somebody wants that, but that’s not really the viewpoint of a typical feminist.

If you could translate the text of this meme into the author’s actual thoughts; that is, what he would say if he weren’t trying so very, very hard to be clever, it might sound something like this: “I’m sick of namby-pamby feminists griping about how Barbie is screwing up their daughters’ fragile self-esteem. Boys don’t get all messed up from playing with He-Man, and he’s impossibly beef-cakey.”

He might not actually use the word beef-cakey, but the message would be the same. Toys alone do not damage a young girl’s self-esteem, but a model of an impossibly slim, busty woman in conjunction with the near-constant torrent of body-shaming that comes from advertisements, television shows, movies, and society in general definitely takes its toll.

And why don’t boys develop the same kind of body-image fixation on their He-Man or G.I.Joe action figures? Some do, but it’s probably not as widespread in boys because boys don’t face the same amount of body-shaming from other sources. I grew up with all the society-approved boy toys, but nobody ever told me that I was worthless or wouldn’t be able to get married if I didn’t have biceps on my biceps (although I occasionally worried that my inability to operate virtually any military vehicle with little or no training would negatively impact my social life…don’t ask me how).

If feminists are more concerned about the influence of Barbie than of He-Man, it’s only because they understand how society works; and perhaps they wish to change it for the better. The author of this meme clearly doesn’t.

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28 thoughts on “On The Gender Politics of Plastic Homunculi

  1. This is where feminism goes wrong. It is assumed that He-Man doens’t affect boys the same way Barbie affects girls. So we study how Barbie affects girls, and it’s not good. Since we assumed that He-Man doesn’t do this to boy, so we don’t study his affect on boys, so we don’t see how it hurts boys, so we use this blindness as support for the assumption that it doesn’t hurt boys, so we assume that He-Man doesn’t hurt boys, so we don’t study his affect on boys etc etc.

    I have an amazingly radical idea, Men and Women are equal. This means that unrealistic body images have similar affects on both boys and girls. It is bigoted sexism to only look at the affects on the half the population with the “correct” genitalia, ie Feminism.

  2. If you will carefully reread my post, you’ll see where I said that Barbie alone is not to blame for girls’ self-esteem issues: instead, Barbie is one more drop in a flood of female body-shaming that comes from the media. Do boys receive body shaming as well? Sure, but not to the same extent as girls and women. And why not? Because it is still a male-dominated world. To deny that is either naivety or willful ignorance.

    I agree that men and women should be equal. That’s not an amazingly radical idea: it’s the core of the feminist movement. But there’s a lot of pushback to that idea. One form of pushback is whenever anybody tries to apply some kind of “reverse sexism” to feminism.

    • This is where anti-feminism goes wrong. If I showed either of my sons (or ANY of their friends) a He-Man doll, they’d say “Who the heck is that?” but they would ALL know right away who Barbie is. He-Man is nowhere near the pervasive cultural icon that Barbie is. He was popular for 10 minutes in the 80s, while Barbie has been a ubiquitous image shoved down the throats of little girls for over 50 years. How can they possibly have “similar effects?” It’s not just “feminism,” it’s basic math.

      My sons, would, however know who any major Tranformer is… A great set of toys that couldn’t really affect body image in the same way because they’re robots… so tell me about all the female Transformer toys. Name 3 Female Transformers (without googleing it). So popular boy’s toys == no body image problem… popular girls toys… big body image problem. Again, math.

  3. Congratulations on being sexist – to men. You assume a lot based on one word – ‘feminists’ – that is simply not supported by the image. I saw this and you know what I thought? “There’s that double standard AGAIN.” We always hear about the negative body image that Barbie supports, but we NEVER hear about the negative body image that He-Man, Action Man etc create for young boys. That is a double standard.

    Personally, I rail against ALL negative body images presented to children, because it affects them all. Girls are conditioned that if they don’t conform to accepted standards of ‘beauty’ they won’t have a good life, but so are boys – the standards are just different. Muscles, a strong jaw line, good in a fight, strong, handsome etc are all tied to business success and success in dating. If you aren’t all of the above you deserve to live and die alone, a failure. That is the image presented to young boys and it is just as damaging as the image forced upon little girls.

    Myself, I suffered greatly from negative body image, directly tied in to how men are *expected* to be and because I am, frankly, none of those things. I am not tall. I am not handsome. I am not muscled, nor am I strong. I was the exact opposite of the stereotypical male image and guess what I got? Bullied from the age of 5 to 16. 11 YEARS of abuse because I didn’t conform to the expected male image, abuse that distracted me from my studies so I got no useful grades at school so I continue to fail to meet the male standards by not being successful. It has taken decades of hard work to drag myself up. So I call nonsense on your claim that negative body image affects females worse – it affects EVERYONE.

    • Um, no. Sexism cannot apply to men because men are still largely in power. Speaking as a man, I know this to be true. I and all other men, regardless of our physical appearance, are afforded certain privileges that women have to work twice as hard for (IF they even receive them at all).

      I’m very, very sorry that you were picked on…I really am. I was picked on too, because like you, I wasn’t particularly strong, athletic, etc. But you know what? I’m not going to take MY personal case and extrapolate it to all men. I will never claim that ALL men suffer as badly as women just because of a few outliers. And I don’t recall any time during my youth that the media tried to persuade me that I wasn’t good enough the way I was. Why? Because if you watch commercials or billboards, especially the ones geared towards improving your personal appearance, they’re almost always geared towards women.

      But we can agree to disagree, I suppose. Thanks for your comment.

    • “…but we NEVER hear about the negative body image that He-Man, Action Man etc create for young boys. That is a double standard.”

      If there is a “double standard” He-Man is a really poor example. One need only go try to find the non-existent “He Man” section at any Toys R Us, then go to the massive Barbie section (and Brats) to see it’s a poor attempt at a false equivalency.

      Men and boys don’t get, and never have gotten any body expectations from He Man or like toys because He Man exists in a fantasy world with magic swords and flying space cars. Barbie exists in a realistic world where she fills expected life roles real girls are expected to want to emulate. There’s no way you can compare those effects.

      As men, you and I know damn well (or should) that society doesn’t predicate nearly the same amount of your self worth on your appearance as it does with women. That’s why they die of eating disorders at a much higher rate. Some of us “get picked on” but it’s killing them.

      But the worst thing about this is that even if He Man had a similar effect on boys, so what?
      It’s not a “victim contest.” Do you feel cancer researchers are guilty of a “double standard” because rabies? Can people talk about problems they have without it being all about you all the time?

  4. Is it too much to ask that somebody actually READS what I write before firing off a knee-jerk response? Apparently so.

    I never, ever said that men don’t have body issues. I said ” Some [boys] do [develop body-image issues], but it’s probably not as widespread in boys because boys don’t face the same amount of body-shaming from other sources.” And you know what? Neither of the sources you provided refutes that point. They say that there has been an uptick in male body-image issues, but neither article says that body image issues now plague men MORE than women. What this tells me is that not only did you NOT bother to read my post carefully, but you didn’t read your sources carefully either.

    “lol, enough said”

    Obviously not, because I’m not sure what you’re getting at.

    “one day you will get a girlfriend”

    I don’t think my wife would be too happy about that, but I guess I’m some kind of Mangina for caring what she thinks, right?

  5. I think you can excuse the feminist focus on unhealthy female stereotypes with the fact that they only know their own sex & gender’s experience. We probably shouldn’t make claims about the volume of female vs. male body shaming, because there is little research. I think men may exacerbate the disparity by pretending the He-Mans and Channing Tatums don’t affect them. The major flaw of the meme is the assumption that, because both genders have impossible stereotypes to emulate, they must be benign, or cancel each other out somehow. There’s no consideration they could both be harmful, and only reinforce each other. Right there’s another excuse for the female focus: if you solve Barbie, you simultaneously solve He-Man.

    I think we’d be surprised how comparable male body shaming and social conditioning is to female, at least in the West, but sociological research (particularly sexual) is criminally underfunded. That’s how we got into this mess in the first place – most people still can’t distinguish gender from sex. And more research won’t matter if men can’t be honest about their gender’s stereotypes.

    • Well, I would certainly be interested in reading the results of a well-funded sociological investigation about body shaming and its effect on the various genders. Thanks for reading and commenting!

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  7. No. Sexism, racism, classism, etc, is when people in power mistreat or marginalize people who aren’t. If history had favored women in power over men, then anti-male sentiment could truly be called sexism.

  8. Sigh… Let me give it to you from the viewpoint of a female who just doesn’t give a darn:
    -Jocks/bullies vs geeks/nerds/skinny little boys. And nobody even actually TRIES to stop bullying!
    -Successful athletes vs boring businessmen.
    -Go to the gym, & take a look around.
    -Bodybuilding tournaments.
    -WWE. Mmm… Half-naked big muscular sweaty men touching & hugging each other! 😄
    -Steroids.
    -Every single male superhero HAS to be impossibly muscled. (Except Iron Man, he cheated by becoming a robot) 😛
    -Body shaming? Pffft the guy runs around in nothing but a codpiece, and you can even see his butt muscles from behind! Srsly, have you seen all the He-Man yaoi lately?! 😄 Dang, all those bulging rippling butt & thigh muscles and rock-hard nipples and gigantic bulging crotches! Wow, that’s not shameful at all! *rolls eyes*
    -While all girls have to do is look like prostitutes to get ahead in life, guys have to go through aaaall that strenuous training to even FEEL accomplished. The funny thing is… (A lot of, not all) girls love the attention they get from having their half-clothed bodies & makeup-caked faces stared at by others, just as much as big muscular guys love having their bodies admired by others… It’s a sad world we live in.
    -Thanks to all this ‘superhero’ claptrap, I can’t find me a cute little thin nerdy boy to be my ‘pet’, because those who still are cute & skinny usually turn out to be gay! Thanks a lot, superheroes! Now I can’t play dressup with a proper ‘male doll’ because of you! (Yes I like dolls too. Problem?)
    -Until a woman can walk around with a bald head, hairy arms/armpits/legs, and a beergut, and STILL believe that she’s sexy, women will never be equal to men.
    -When I was a little girl, all the other girls in my class wanted to be princesses/ballerinas/popstars… I was a tomboy, & I wanted to be like He-Man (mostly because I wanted muscles like his). Now, many of those girls have gotten teen-pregnant, become drugheads, some have turned to prostitution, & two of those I knew committed suicide… While I’m over here getting my masters degree, and 100% childfree, with big(ger than normal) muscles. 😛 And I’ve never tasted a single drop of alcohol in my life, much less drugs. That stuff can destroy your liver and brain you know!

    I say y’all should be thankful y’all don’t live in the Middle East. Y’know the land of absolute patriarchy & GB2kitchen? Where women are forced to wear masks/veils/whatever for the rest of their lives? Where women are forbidden to even leave the house without their father/husband/male legal guardian’s consent? Yeah, that’s the one.

    The end.

  9. I really enjoyed your thoughts on this topic, thanks.

    I personally, as a feminist don’t have a problem with Barbie or Disney Princesses. I feel like if my daughter wants to enjoy a princess movie or play with a Barbie doll I am okay with that. I think she should be able to be who she wants to be, and like what she likes without apologies. Same with boys….Although I must say I had no idea he man was still relevant lol. If body issues with men are so prevalent, which did they have to go all the way back to the 80’s for an example?

    My real problem with body issues presented to women cone from the unofficial competition we are all somehow a part of it, “like who wore it best” or best and worst beach bods.

    Anyway, I don’t think standing up for men’s rights was the point of his meme. I think it was more to shame feminists, and point out “see, they don’t care about men” which is a lie. If it were about men’s issues, bring it up and do something about it, why stand around and wonder what the feminists are doing about it? You never need to eat for someone else to make moves and statements on something you think is important.

    Again, thanks for the post (m find just shared this meme today, so it is still circulating lol)

    • “If body issues with men are so prevalent, which did they have to go all the way back to the 80’s for an example?”

      Precisely. And I agree with you that the ultimate point of this meme was to shame feminists. I could say a lot more about anti-feminists and MRAs – but I’m trying to keep my blood pressure down for right now.

      Anyway, thank you very much for reading and for commenting.

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  11. Humans fret about their appearance… it’s human nature.

    Men are just as concerned about their appearance as women and feel as much pressure to live up to the ideal. Unfortunately the idealised male has a super-sculpted body which physically is nigh on impossible for your average man to attain. On the flip side we also have a societal norm that men shouldn’t care about how they look (because that’s considered a feminine trait).

    In any case, women are just as responsible for promoting idealised concepts of female beauty. Women are well represented in the advertising, fashion, cosmetics, modelling industries and decide on models, photo-shoots, marketing etc etc Women are largely responsible for creating the standards for other women to live up to.

    Barbie, for example, was created by a woman.

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