17 December 2004 - 11:15 AM
The Barbie Question
The Duchess left a bit of wisdom in my guestbook on the difference between girls and women. The critical question, she says, is how do I feel about Barbie?
I had some Barbies as a kid, and I played with them; I had other dolls and I played with those, too. I liked dolls (still do) and made up quite complex stories about them. Barbie wasn't my favourite, though. She was a little too blonde and a little too tanned and just a little too stiff. She was also too big for our dollhouse.
As an adult, I don't hate Barbie, as some seem to do. Obviously there's a lot about Barbie which is physically impossible (e.g. her proportions) or otherwise unrealistic. I'll note that Holiday Fantasy Barbie seems to sell better than Accountant Barbie, despite the fact that there are more women in suits than ballgowns on a daily basis.
Now, teaching little girls about the realities of life so they grow up strong is important. But fantasy is also important. I'd even argue that a certain amount is psychologically necessary. Tolkien wrote an essay called 'On Fairy Stories' which I strongly recommend as an excellent defence of fantasy; it's usually included in the little 'Tolkien readers' which one or more of the fantasy publishers occasionally print, along with 'Farmer Giles of Ham' and 'Smith of Wootton Major' and other small gems. Go look it up.
There's a lot about the Barbie fantasy which is appealing. She's pretty, she's popular, she seems to have unlimited funds or at least all the trappings of wealth -- dream house, sports cars, horses, etc. Those are all things that our society values; whether we like to admit it or not, most of us do care about how we look, if others like us, how much money we have.
But we all also know that's where the Barbie fantasy falls short. She's pretty, popular, and rich, and that's it. There is no life of the mind in Barbie's world, no scholarship or poetry (without which I would shrivel up and die), no challenges, no wrongs to right or evils to overcome, and not even very much in the way of romance and family. Heck, I don't even think she has to deal with day-to-day nuisances, like getting the oil in that pink 'vette changed every 3000 miles or mucking out the horses' stalls.
Frankly, I find Barbie's world kind of boring.
It's not that I enjoy battling through the day-to-day details, or struggling to solve larger problems in my world. I don't, any more than Frodo enjoyed being the Ringbearer. It's hard, and frequently disheartening, work. But I like to believe, deep down, that I might just be contributing to something larger and more important than myself. Maybe I'm not a Frodo; maybe I'm more like Merry and Pippin, or Sam. But I'm doing my part.
Barbie's world, which is eternally clean and pretty, doesn't offer that. There's nothing greater than the self there, no struggle, no satisfaction. It's spiritually empty. I don't want to live there.
So, Your Grace, how do I score?