The Vagenda

Mattel Isn’t Dreaming Big Enough: On Entreprener Barbie


Think of business entrepreneurs and you have a wide expanse of gents to work with. Self-made men with memorable hair, such as Richard Branson, Duncan Bannatyne and Donald Trump. They’ve made their fortunes, and you’d better bow down and worship at the altar of their success.

But who can knock the drive and ambition it takes to get ahead of your competitors and win so comprehensively? And you know what I bet Donald Trump had to inspire him? An overpriced lump of moulded plastic. I’m picturing a teeny-tiny businessman doll with a bad wig and no sense of self awareness. What a cockamamie idea, I hear you cry – who would ever buy that?

Well. Enter the frame, Entrepreneur Barbie.

The impossibly-figured Mattel icon of our childhood has gone through some hefty modernisations in the last few years, but now that a klaxon of equality is really sounding through the land, Mattel have gone one step further. Instead of hanging out waiting for Ken by the pool, Barbie is earning her own meal ticket. In fact, the company’s #unapologetic motto is ‘if you can dream it, you can be it (provided you have a teeny tiny waist)”

I added that last bit in.

Seriously, though: long gone are the days when Barbie, having deduced that ‘math is hard’, would cruise to the shopping centre in her purpose-built convertible dressed in a fashionably sexualised ensemble. Bikinis are mall-appropriate, right. Nowadays the ultimate consumer – what with her Dream House, RV Camper, Fashionista Closet and much much more – has turned businesswoman, with a smartphone, tablet and briefcase by her side.

Hold the phone – forget a woman in the White House – women in big business are taking over popular culture and providing companies with myriad marketing opportunities. Women currently hold just 4.8 percent of Fortune 500 CEO positions and Entrepreneur Barbie is here to help redress the balance and give those board meetings a shake-up – clad, of course, in her perfectly pink tailored outfit – like she’s got a direct dream phone line to Sheryl Sandberg. Just imagine her LinkedIn profile. In other words, Barbie is leaning the fuck IN, bitches.

Following in the footsteps of Lego, who recently announced the issue of female scientists – presumably partly in atonement for all the damage they’ve done with Lego Friends (pink for girls, natch) – Mattel have seen the green, and you’ve sort of got to hand it to them.

Of course, what Entrepreneur Barbie is designed to be and what she actually is equates to to two very different things. The manufacturers want us to believe that Barbie is a sign of the times, of equality – this Barbie isn’t in offices to make the coffee, she’s setting the agenda, she’s busting balls and making the magic happen. Screw the coffee!

But what the issue of Entrepreneur Barbie really means is simply one more grossly cynical attempt to market toys to girls with a vague gesture towards the idea of strong womanhood (albeit, clad in fuschia pink). Entrepreneur Barbie is a nod to an idea that women have anything like the influence men do in business.

Clothed in a veneer of advancement though, Mattel can say anything. ”Female entrepreneurs are changing the world, surpassing their goals and showing girls they can be both capable and captivating,” the company said in a statement.By ‘captivating’, it’s a safe bet they mean ‘hot’ while marketing this children’s toy.

They’ve even designed a hashtag for Barbie – #unapologetic. Where to start with that? If you tell a young girl that she can do anything, the sky is the limit. She won’t question it, and her soaring confidence will only be matched by her almighty achievements. However, if you tell a little girl that she’s to be ‘unapologetic’, isn’t that just going to fill her with questions? ‘What have I got to apologise for… Should I be apologising… Who am I apologising to?’ It better not be Ken, left at home wondering where his manhood went because the old ball and chain’s gone out to bring home the bacon. Well done, Barbie – slow hand clap from the sisterhood.

What Entrepreneur Barbie actually is is another plastic, pornographically-shaped, inexplicably smiling attack on the morale and self-confidence of millions of little girls around the world. Does that sound harsh? #unapologetic.

Don’t get me wrong. She may well have the brains to rule the world, the ambition and intent to mould entire corporations to her will, and the steely-minded certainty that Ken will be staying at home to look after any adorable tiny blobs of plastic that may spring forth from her smoothy smooth nether regions (if anyone ever succeeds in locating an opening) while she goes after the Benjamins. But she’s also got awesome hair and accessories to go with those brains, and she still can’t stand up by herself.

At the age of 55, it seems like Barbie’s final realisation that big business is her sphere has come quite late. All along, that demure smile has said nothing, everyone assuming it implied, ‘I am woman, hear my silence’. But perhaps it was a grimace like Devil Wears Prada’s fearsome editor Miranda Priestley. ‘Don’t even think about it,’ sneers new, scary Barbie, with all the grit of Rebecca Brooks and the gravity of Karren Brady. If only.

Actually, when all is said and done, what Barbie’s got on the outside is, as usual, what matters here. Looking at Entrepreneur Barbie, there’s been no step back from her being anything other than physically ‘perfect’ – in so far as something can be at 11.5 inches tall. Adding a fashionable outfit and some tiny plastic tech to a Barbie doesn’t make her a sign of the times, or an evolution of the gender balance that all those blasted feminists have been crowing for. Is this what we all wanted when we demanded better role models?

After all, the rogue’s gallery of Barbies past is pretty terrifying (check out some photos from the Barbie museum, here). There’s the sexy astronaut – who looks like she might be about to skip off the International Space Station and go clubbing. The sexy doctor – who you suspect might, in what I would suggest constitutes a direct violation of her Hippocratic Oath, start to strip for her patients. The demure yet sexy what-looks-like-congresswoman Barbie – she can’t wait to fling off the chains of governance and party hard. Much like them, this new Barbie lacks anything approaching reality, and only serves to cloud the message of being truly ‘unapologetic’ for who you are and what you do.

As a way of paying feminists lip service, I think it’s a misstep, or at the very least a cop-out. If Mattel are really keen in redressing the gender balance in a meaningful and realistic way, perhaps they’d issue a Bad Hair Day Barbie, a School Run Barbie, a PMT Barbie. We’re looking for you, Hungover Barbie Who Nails the Pitch Meeting Regardless. Step forward, Barbie Who Stuck a Mascara Wand In Her Eye On The Way to the Sexual Harassment Tribunal (which, by the way, she totally won). Where is Secretary of State Barbie? Lord Chief Justice Barbie? Brain Surgeon Barbie? Where is our Barbie Who Nails Her Dream Job, or Stand Up Comedian About To Preview her First Edinburgh Show Barbie? Where is Barbie with a Belly AND a Briefcase?

There are so many facets of womanhood which remained unexplored in the ‘brave new world’ of plastic equality. These are the Barbies that will help young girl grow up to know the best version of themselves. None of them are perfect, and not all of them are wearing pink. If you can dream it, you really can be it, but sadly Mattel just aren’t dreaming hard enough.

- Kirstie McCrum

3 thoughts on “Mattel Isn’t Dreaming Big Enough: On Entreprener Barbie

  1. In some fields the barbie doll has been specifically introduced to encourage girls into a profession and designed by feminists in the field. Architecture being the field I am familiar with. Archi barbie has a knee length skirt and glasses but also despite having been designed by

  2. Oh, Entrepreneur Barbie. This must have been who came up with the ‘Barbie Cosmetic Surgery’ game…..

  3. Honestly, Vagenda.

    No, like seriously. I love you and all but can you not see the good in anything?

    The #unapologetic thing. Yup, totally with you on that. Would have confused the hell out of me as a child and definitely would have made me feel somewhat apologetic. An own goal for Matell for sure.

    But surely, I mean SURELY astronaut barbie is a good thing. Yes she accessorises, yes she has awesome hair but that doesn’t totally negate the fact that this is a step in the right direction. It’s not as good as if Barbie had gained 30lbs and maybe gone down a cup size but it’s NOT ALL BAD. My report card for Mattel would read something like ‘must try harder’, not ‘must be burned at the steak for offences against the soles of innocents’. Jeez.

    And can I just stick up for accesorising for a minute here? And awesome hair please? I am wearing a PVC mini skirt to work today (no not in an alternative way, in a sexy way) and I have awesome hair and I am very #unapologetic for that. On the other hand perhaps the skirt was an error as it is hot today and omg chafing.

    On the marketing bumf, what did you want them to have as their strapline ‘realistically the gender pay gap is slowly widening and only the very privileged among you will escape its clutches. Also good luck all you girlies in the US cos with no mandatory maternity leave you’re gonna have to sacrifice A HELL OF A LOT to achieve what entrepreneur Babs has got. But look her shoes match!’

    I mean really. WHO would buy a PMT Barbie? That’s not fun. (I realise this was a joke but seriously, toys have to be fun or noone will buy them. And Mattel is an organisation which sells toys. Not a feminist think tank.)

    I’m all for high standards and all that but there’s a danger that in failing to celebrate the small victories we become so doom and gloomy noone wants to play with us any more.