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.