Yes but does gender stereotyping actually matter? Isn’t it just some trivial thing that floats past like dandelion fluff but doesn’t actually do anything? A couple of researchers decided to ask the question.
A duo of researchers at Oregon State University hypothesized that playing with sexualized dolls not only hurts self-esteem, it influences the way young girls think about their adult lives.
Past research in the U.K. has shown that nearly a third of female teenagers want to be models, while only 4 percent wanted to be engineers. Adolescent girls, it seems, are drawn to careers based on appearance, not knowledge.
That’s a pretty shocking finding, if it’s true. Models? Nearly a third? One of the most brainless and passive lines of “work” it’s possible to think of, and also one of the most useless…and that’s a big career goal. Ugh.
For the study, published in the journal Sex Roles, 37 girls between the ages of 4 and 7 were randomly assigned to play with one of three dolls: a typical Barbie doll wearing a fancy party dress; a “career” Barbie, decked in her career-ready lab coat, stethoscope, and “low-heeled shoes” (look out world!); or a Mrs. Potato Head doll, who comes adorned with chunky high heels and hot-pink purse, but otherwise has the countenance of a tuber, like her husband.
The children played with their respective toys for five minutes. Then they were presented with photos of 11 male- and female-dominated professions, so appointed according to Bureau of Labor Statistics data.
The female dominated occupations were teacher, librarian, day care worker, flight attendant, and nurse. The male dominated occupations included construction worker, firefighter, pilot, doctor, and police officer. The neutral occupation was a server in a restaurant.
The girls were then asked, “Could you do this job when you grow up?” and “Could a boy do this job when he grows up?”
Depressingly, all of the girls thought a boy would more likely be able to do more of both the male- and female jobs…
…but the potato head girls thought they could do more of both kinds of jobs than the girls who played with either kind of Barbie.
It’s a small study and a small effect but WHAT ARE WE DOING TO GIRLS AROUND HERE? In a decade or two will all women actually resemble the Martian-world Real Housewives?
Women have been shown to perform worse on math tests when they wear swimsuits rather than sweaters. Barbie, then, might act like a perpetual swimsuit for the brain.
“Barbie may be one way that ideas about a girls’ place in the world is communicated to the girl,” Sherman said.
There are other things too; Barbie dolls aren’t the only cultural artifact girls ever see or play with…but there is a hell of a lot of this gender-policing pink bubble-gum girls-are-airheads stuff around, one way and another. It’s not good enough.