The problem with Ken and Barbie

WHAT’S WRONG WITH KEN AND BARBIE? The problem with Ken and Barbie is much bigger than these two dolls.  We are actually talking about gender stereotypes.  A stereotype assumes things about how a person should act, dress, think and talk and a gender stereotype bases these judgements on the person’s sex – male or female.  The female stereotype is that girls and women should be pretty, polite, do as they are told, ‘nice,’ soft, sensitive and need the protection and/or guidance of a man. The male stereotype is that boys and men should be rough and tough (both physically and emotionally), aggressive and in control.  These things are taught to us from the time we are born.  Studies have shown that people will be rougher with and talk in a deeper voice to a baby dressed in blue.  Dress that same baby in pink and people will be gentler and speak in a higher voice and/or more softly.  From that age, our belief about how boys and girls should think, act, dress and interact is already being constructed.

SO WHAT’S WRONG WITH THAT? Think about some of the other stereotypes – are all public school students low achieving, bare footed and lice-ridden drop-outs? How about private school students – do they all arrive at school in their parent’s BMW’s with a Chanel laptop case and sushi for lunch? No. (If you said yes, you may need to get out more or take a course in REAL LIFE). Stereotypes are dangerous because they are rigid and restrictive and don’t allow room for people to be individual, varied and contradictory.  Phrases like, “Man up and don’t be such a girl”, place a higher value on what are thought to be masculine traits and behaviours (dominant, aggressive and unemotional) and belittle those behaviours and traits that are associated with women (empathy, compassion and good communicators).This means that people who don’t fit into the stereotyped gender ‘box’ are bullied and teased into conforming and may end up hiding or disguising parts of their personality that help make them who they are – which is a shame because often they’re the personality traits that make people awesome. The other thing that sucks about gender stereotypes is that they are often made up of opposites, for example a woman should be a ‘sexy virgin’ and a guy should be  ‘tough but sensitive’ –  as if this stuff wasn’t confusing enough!

HOW DOES THIS LINK TO ‘RAPE CULTURE’? Gender stereotypes encourage men to be violent and aggressive (hyper- masculine) and women to be quiet, compliant, and passive. This encourages the acceptance of a power imbalance that sees men with power over women.  Gender stereotypes played out through the media and popular culture also tell us that guys need to have sex all the time and women owe them sex. The media and popular culture make us believe that women are sexual objects who are ‘panting for it’ (once you break through their passive, quiet front) and want to be dominated and ‘taken’. The problem with this is that when we see this played out ALL THE TIME, we start to believe it’s real. You can see how this leads to the re-enforcement of a rape culture – women all want to be ‘seduced’ and it takes a ‘real man’ to do it.