Barbie Is A Terrible Professional Role Model, A New Study Finds

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barbie_1 Photo: Courtesy of Mattel.
Barbie is in trouble again, and this time it's not her physics-defying body that's alarming people. At least not directly. This time, the charge is less obvious but equally damaging: Playing with Barbie dolls might negatively influence girls' career aspirations. A new study, "Boys Can Be Anything: Effect of Barbie Play on Girls' Career Cognitions," explores a potential connection between young females' exposure to Barbie and their perceptions of various jobs.

Led by Aurora Sherman of Oregon State University and Eileen Zurbriggen of the University of California, the study involved 37 girls who were invited to pick a toy to play with. They were given three options: Fashion Barbie, Doctor Barbie, and Mrs. Potato Head. After playtime, the girls were shown 10 photographs depicting various professions, and asked to choose which jobs they thought they could do when they grow up — and which ones the boys could do.

The results are troubling. The girls who played with Mrs. Potato Head seemed to believe they could do the same jobs as boys, while those who chose Barbie saw fewer career options for themselves. "Perhaps Barbie can 'Be Anything' as the advertising for this doll suggests, but girls who play with her may not apply these possibilities to themselves," Sherman suggested in an interview with Fast Company.

But, she and Zurbriggen both admit that they need to look deeper into this correlation, as it's unclear why there was a divergence in answers between test groups. Is merely being exposed to Barbie's humanoid proportions in a doctor's lab coat enough to turn a child away from pursuing a medical field? Without more context, it seems far-fetched. For example, could it be that the girls who chose to play with Barbie are already embracing more traditionally feminine ideals? And, what about boys who play with Barbies — are they affected, too? This will definitely be an interesting, if a bit disturbing, theory to watch develop. (Co.Design)