By Denise Jewell Gee
The Buffalo News, N.Y.
Astronaut Barbie launched her career when I was 6. She wore knee-high boots and a shapely pink-and-silver uniform. Not exactly moon-walking material, but I liked the doll so much I kept her clothes pristine and carefully stored away the box.
Soon after that, Ferrari Barbie came out. The message, while overtly material, was this: Barbie could shoot for the moon and earn enough money on her own to buy a hot red sports car.
Today’s Barbie has all sorts of opportunities. She’s a computer engineer, an obstetrician, a paleontologist, a fashion designer, an architect, a race car driver, a veterinarian, a pilot — the list of career-oriented “I Can Be” dolls goes on.
That includes Cheerleader Barbie, with blue pompoms and a pink skirt.
Here’s what they won’t tell little girls: Cheerleader Barbie may have glitz, but she’ll make less than she would slinging burgers. No minimum wage. No hourly rate. Maybe, if she’s lucky, she’ll get a few paying gigs to smile, mingle and keep her opinions to herself.
The worth of a cheerleader in the eyes of the multibillion-dollar National Football League and its teams is zilch.
No one thinks the league is short on cash. The Bills just sold for $1.4 billion. The NFL reported paying Commissioner Roger Goodell $44 million in 2012. It managed $3.3 billion for its 32 football team owners that year.
Yet, before they were benched this season, the most visible women working on the field at Bills games got little more than free game tickets and parking passes.
Not only were they not even paid minimum wage, the Buffalo Jills had to shell out $650 for their uniforms, according to a lawsuit over the lack of pay.
All this, and they were supposed to put on red lipstick and smile about it.
Cheerleader Barbie might as well come with a maxed-out credit card.
It’s easy to slough off the Jills lawsuit as just another insult in a professional sports industry with the hubris to suggest that rock stars pay to play at the Super Bowl. But it reflects a deeply entrenched and antiquated reality off the field about women and pay.
We spend a lot of time thinking about ways to convince young women to pursue careers of their dreams. But we utterly fail to prepare them to ask for what they’re worth. Worse, studies have shown that women, more than men, are penalized for asking for more money.
It’s not just subtle cues the working world sends to women about pay. Microsoft CEO Satya Nadella caused the latest gender uproar when he suggested women who don’t ask for raises will eventually be rewarded by good karma.
“Because somebody’s going to know that’s the kind of person that I want to trust,” Nadella said. “That’s the kind of person that I want to really give more responsibility to, and in the long-term efficiency, things catch up,” Nadella said. He later apologized, telling his employees, “If you think you deserve a raise, you should just ask.”
But the damage was done. The message to girls: We prefer women who don’t ask for what they deserve.
Entrepreneur Barbie comes with a pink clutch and a tiny tablet with business projections. She ought to come with a copy of “Women Don’t Ask: The High Cost of Avoiding Negotiation.”
We can give girls all the astronaut and scientist Barbies in the world, but unless we teach them to speak up, they’ll continue to settle for less than what they’re worth.