Barbie Explains Our Post-Feminist Age

Drop those feminist theory textbooks! If you want to understand the ever-shifting tides of contemporary feminism, you could do worse than watch this:

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This Saturday Night Live parody commercial for “President Barbie,” which aired over the weekend, featured a Hillary Clinton doppelgänger in the form of a Barbie doll, complete with blue pantsuit and stiff smile (and a smartphone loaded with the SnapChat app, but not with classified State Department files). As the tween girls onscreen are hectored by an adult to play with the politically correct doll, they rebel, noting, “Feels like she’s trying too hard.”

They also don’t see why it’s a big deal for a woman to be president, or why they have to play with a Barbie at all. “Girls don’t have to play with dolls, we can play with whatever we want,” they say to the camera, parroting years of GirlPower rhetoric. Another girl dismissively announced, “I’m playing with Legos.”

Barbie, of course, has been drawing the ire of feminists for decades, who claim (with scant evidence) that the doll creates unrealistic standards of beauty for young girls. Mattel, which makes Barbie, has, like a desperate suitor, attempted to answer these claims by manufacturing Barbies that embrace traditionally male occupations; and releasing commercials that cast Barbie as a positive role model (“When a girl plays with Barbie, she imagines everything she can become,” the tag line says—and of course the girls in the commercial imagine being veterinarians and neuroscience professors, never porn stars or trophy wives).

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Mattel has even launched the body positive Barbie Fashionistas line, featuring “curvy,” “tall,” and “petite” dolls that are supposed to more closely resemble women’s varied shapes and sizes.

But with each effort to remake Barbie into a doll that will suit the tastes of our politically correct age, someone finds a way to undermine those efforts with subversive humor. Take, for example, the parody Instagram account, Barbie Savior, which pokes fun at do-gooderish efforts by privileged Westerners who go to places like Africa and then promote their work online. “Called. 20 Years Young. It’s not about me . . . but it kind of is,” says the description on the account, which features images such as a dread-locked white Barbie cavorting on the African savannah and another doll in a long yellow dress mocking Taylor Swift’s “Wildest Dreams” video (for which Swift was called a racist, since the video was shot in Africa but only featured white people).

An earlier Saturday Night Live Barbie parody skewered efforts by Mattel to cater to multicultural sensitivities; it featured “Asian American Doll,” which, the announcer notes, required “lots of sensitivity meetings” to get just right. (The doll doesn’t speak and wears neutral clothing, so as not to offend anyone.)

Some people aren’t getting the joke. Feminist website Bustle was annoyed with the most recent Hillary / Barbie parody on Saturday Night Live, accusing the show of trying to undermine Clinton’s future as a role model. In garbled prose, one writer argued,

There’s something very unsettling about seeing an all-women sketch—as well as little girls—commenting on how all of these criticisms and comments could take away from Clinton being seen as a role model by the next generation. People shouldn’t be lessening the achievements of someone who is so close to the presidency, but for some reason, people are.

Maybe, like the girls in the commercial, people are just tired of being told what to think and who to embrace as role models—including for their children’s toys.

Barbie. I’m with her.

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