Young girls who play with ‘fashion dolls’, such as Barbie, see themselves as having fewer career options when they’re grown up compared boys – and compared to other girls who play with other less ‘sexualised’ toys and dolls.
So say US scientists who have been studying how girls play, and whether the type of toy they play with makes them more likely to absorb ‘old-fashioned’ beliefs about gender stereotypes.
The researchers gave a small group of girls, all aged between 4 and 7, one of three different dolls to play with: some played with a Barbie doll dressed as a fashion model; some played with a Barbie doll dressed as a doctor, and the others played with Mrs Potato Head. Afterwards, all the girls were shown photographs of ten work occupations and asked how many of those jobs they could do in the future, and how many boys could do.
The girls who played with the Barbies – and that’s the ‘doctor’ Barbie as well as the ‘model’ Barbie – didn’t see themselves as capable of doing as many of the occupations as they thought boys could do.
But the girls who played with Mrs Potato Head reckoned they could do pretty much anything a boy could do.
The researchers, from the University of Oregon and the University of California, think these findings show that playing with Barbie dolls drives home cultural stereotypes about a woman’s place, and suppresses a little girl’s career ambitions.
“Although the marketing slogan suggests that Barbie can ‘Be Anything’,” say study authors Aurora Sherman and Eileen Zurbriggen, “girls playing with Barbie appear to believe that there are more careers for boys than for themselves.”
What do you think? Would you mind your little girl playing with Barbie? Do you think, as dolls go, she’s a bad role model for girls?
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MadeForMums Editor – Helen Brown