For Women, A Cultural Awakening Thanks To Barbie, Playboy, and Trump

By Marilou Johanek
The Blade, Toledo, Ohio.

Maybe in half a century, historians will look at 2015 as the year the tide turned for those who were born female in America.

Maybe in hindsight, perspective will suggest that a small, but real, gender awakening occurred that confounded a culture rife with sexist attitudes and commercialism.

Maybe our daughters’ daughters will note 2015 as the year that launched a serious behavioral correction to the objectification of half of the American population.

Maybe in a year that records two accomplished women running for president of the United States, it is no coincidence that Mattel’s Barbie dolls aren’t flying off the shelves as they once did.

Maybe in 2015, Playboy magazine really thought it would make a difference if it nixed fully nude centerfolds. Maybe the Miss America pageant really thought emphasizing scholarship money would mitigate its parading of beauties in swimsuits and sky-high heels for entertainment.

Maybe Donald Trump, the leading Republican presidential candidate and beauty pageant owner, really thought 21st century women wouldn’t be offended by his sexist barbs and putdowns. But maybe, as Bob Dylan foretold more than 50 years ago: “The times they are a-changin’.”

Perhaps it is Pollyannaish to see progress for the sisterhood in slumping Barbie sales and a storied magazine deciding to become less pornographic. We live in a world bombarded with Victoria’s Secret-like images of idealized, airbrushed, unrealistic models of feminine perfection.

Yet perfect Barbie, with her perfect hair, clothes, shoes, physical dimensions, boyfriend, and accessories, isn’t resonating with young girls in 2015. Sales of Mattel’s largest brand of toys are on track to slip for a fourth consecutive year.

Even a high-tech talking Barbie can’t pull youngsters away from the popular Elsa doll. The empowered Disney princess from Frozen and her younger sister, Anna, are models of brains and beauty who don’t need to be rescued by Prince Charming — or validated by dating a gorgeous Ken doll.

Barbie still looks great after 56 years, but she always will be stigmatized as a high-end, busty bimbo regardless of how many times Mattel updates her face, figure, persona, or wardrobe. Maybe the reason girls aren’t snapping up Barbie dolls like their mothers did is because their narrative is so different.

Their story line is forged in 2015. Girls, like boys, gravitate toward interactive electronic toys and tablets. Barbie is out of fashion.

Dressing dolls with an expanded retail selection of clothes is akin to trying on multiple outfits in a fitting room marathon.

It is limited fun.

Girls expect more today. A modern makeover of Malibu Barbie from 1971 doesn’t capture their fancy.

Girls are growing up in a world of runaway change, from social norms to innovation and technology. Barbie came of age in an era of lowered expectations for the female gender.

So did Playboy, whose debut, featuring Marilyn Monroe in the buff, was a sensation 60 years ago. But this year, the magazine came to the enlightened conclusion that hawking pictures of naked women in a culture of ubiquitous sex was a losing proposition. So the magazine announced it would clean up its act — no more nudity — but racy content and partially draped playmates will stay.

We have not come a long way, baby. Little has changed since hundreds of feminists protested the Miss America pageant in Atlantic City in 1968.

Protesters decried the spectacle of women who paraded before judges to be crowned the ideal American beauty. A 1968 news release by organizers of the women’s liberation movement stated: “The parade down the runway blares the metaphor of the 4-H Club county fair, where the nervous animals are judged for teeth, fleece, etc., and where the best ‘specimen’ gets the blue ribbon.”

The 95th Miss America was crowned last month. But ratings for what used to be a huge event on the TV calendar have been declining for years. Maybe we’ve outgrown women posing in swimsuits and evening gowns to win first prize.

Maybe parading beauties, perfect Barbie dolls, pornographic Playboy, and the sexist showman who is Mr. Trump are out of step in 2015. Maybe, dare I hope, the sisterhood is witnessing a small but real cultural awakening at long last.

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