You Can Be Anything

Throughout literature, themes of domesticity are instilled in young female protagonists as they grow older. For the characters who wanted to break the mold, there weren’t many options. Many became teachers, for instance Jo Marsh, Anne Shirley, and Miss Winston from the Kirsten series. These characters faced an idea of “girlhood” and attempted to push past the boundaries set for girls that were perpetuated in their childhoods. Jacqueline Reid-Walsh examines the vague definition of girlhood in her Keywords for Children’s Literature essay, and its effects are exemplified in the Kirsten series. In the essay, the difference between girlhood and childhood is emphasized. Unlike childhood, girlhood specifically targets females and encourages traditional roles. Additionally, she brings up the history of tomboys in literature that eventually “all grow up to accept and extol conventional female norms”. These societal roles are demonstrated in Meet Kirsten when her mother says “tomorrow you men can look after the barn while we women talk”. Additionally, Reid-Walsh brings up the relationship between dolls and their role to teach the player to fall into feminine stereotypes. Kirsten and her cousins enjoy playing maternal figures to their dolls, possibly foreshadowing their futures. In her essay, Reid-Walsh specifically mentions the controversy of Barbie dolls. The Barbie doll we grew up with has had a massive overhaul. As a kid, I remember the Barbie catchphrase “Be Who You Wanna Be” which later morphed into “You Can Be Anything”. These dolls had jobs such as flight attendant, teacher, nurse, or veterinarian. Now scrolling through the Barbie page, not only do I see an extremely diverse range of dolls, but a diverse range of careers. A variety of STEM careers from entomologist to astrophysicist are offered. Dolls have been created for traditionally male dominated fields such as judges, construction workers, and baseball players. Besides providing representation for many young kids, Barbie actually provides tools for children to learn about such fields. For instance, Mattel partnered with Tynker so kids can learn to code along with their robotics engineer doll. Barbie’s new brand is growing in diversity and promoting the breaking of gender norms that have dominated girlhood in literature and the real world.

3 thoughts on “You Can Be Anything”

  1. Your post is very well written! I played with Barbie dolls as well as American Girl dolls as a child and I think both companies have done their best in the recent years to encourage women in STEM. I remember as a kid gravitating toward the dolls that branched outward into the workforce and redefined this term girlhood. Especially seen in the earlier years of American Girl it is exciting to see the evolution of this term from domesticity to independence. Well done!

  2. I really enjoyed your post and how you discussed how girls do not have to fit into specific careers that may seem more feminine. I am curious to know if Mattel’s expansion of careers has been for just the Barbie dolls or for the Ken dolls as well. I think that it would be interesting to see if there are Ken dolls that participate in careers that are seen as more feminine and that having these dolls would help break that stereotype.

  3. As a woman in STEM myself, I greatly appreciate the changes that Barbie has made to its brand in recent years. Until adolescence, I thought I could only be a nurse if I wanted to go into medicine even though my dream from a young age has been to be a doctor. Now that I am in school pursuing that dream, I can only hope that girls are playing with dolls that accurately represent their dream professions.

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