Recently my son unearthed my case of Barbie clothes from the attic and brought them to me. I don’t remember playing with this doll. My memories of early adolescence are og building forts and planning getaway destinations.
My Aunt Emmie provided most of the clothing for this doll with her expert knitting. I’m amazed at her skill now though I don’t remember admiring that skill then. We took it for granted. She had a thing for pink.
All the essentials of a 60s girl were there: swimsuit, cocktail dress, wedding dress and housedress. The clothes gave us a map of expectations. I can see by the rat’s nest of hair that dear Barbie went through some tough times. She ditched the three piece red knit outfit for a mini-skirt and tights. I don’t see any professional clothes or workshop gloves. There is no briefcase, no computer. Yet there are two aprons, one practical with a matching chefs hat and one frilly one to greet her husband upon his return home. I do love to cook.
It’s a box of propaganda that made sense to the executives at Mattel at the time. I’ve heard that Barbie has evolved over time with scuba gear, ski togs and business attire. But she was not evolved while I grew up.. We tried on these women’s uniforms to suit society’s norms. We told these stories to each other through dating games, house play and dress-up. We learned how to walk in heels, put on make-up and wish upon a star. There is probably a version of this narrative out there for girls under 16 to this day.
I’m glad I didn’t follow that pathway. I’m glad that I grew up during a time of questioning authority — a time when women fought for equal rights, a time when civil discourse turned to difficult subjects. The subjects are getting even more difficult now. Our planet, our rights, our nations, our health….all at risk.
So when I look at this little box of expectations I am thinking about how we’re still swimming up stream in a one piece suit, constrained by expectations, overruled by rulers. I think we might need to add some armor to the closet. We’ll need resilience and a fierce belief in each other. We’ll need to put on our big girl pants and stand up, move forward and speak out loud.
Now where did I put that rotary cutter?