The Toy Barbie Responds to the Wendy Davis Barbie Wars

Conservatives have adopted Barbie as an insult, but the toymaker is fighting back

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Mattel

Barbie has had a rough August.

Twice in the past two weeks, conservative leaders have turned her name — a name that has filled the fantasies for millions of girls — into an insult for Texas state senator Wendy Davis. First conservative pundit Erick Erickson of RedState.com and Fox News called Davis “Abortion Barbie” on Twitter, in an apparent reference to her pro-choice views and physical appearance. Then last weekend Texas attorney general Greg Abbott thanked a supporter who called Davis “Retard Barbie” over Twitter. Both slurs caused a media and political firestorm. Neither was approved by Mattel, Barbie’s manufacturer and a fierce protector of Barbie’s reputation. “As a pop-culture icon, Barbie is often referenced as part of larger conversations occurring in culture,” a spokesperson for the company says. “The so-called Wendy Davis doll is not produced or endorsed by Mattel.”

Barbie’s real message, as told through fictional doll story lines, is quite different, the company argues. Once a symbol of female domesticity, Barbie in recent decades has been preoccupied with breaking glass, or plastic, ceilings. She has forged more than 135 careers since she was born in 1959. Barbie was an astronaut who landed on the moon four years before Neil Armstrong. She taught sign language and Spanish. She was a UNICEF-summit diplomat, an ambassador for world peace and a NASCAR driver. She has served in all four branches of the U.S. armed forces and ran for President in every election since 1992, nearly 15 years before Hillary Clinton threw her hat into the ring. “My whole philosophy of Barbie was that through the doll, the little girl could be anything she wanted to be,” Barbie’s creator, Ruth Handler, once said. “Barbie always represented the fact that a woman has choices.”

Of course, Barbie is a complicated model of feminism. She always wears makeup. If she were life-size, her waist would be just about half of the female national average. Her 1965 bathroom scale was set permanently at 110 lb. And Mattel did not create an African-American Barbie until 1980, more than two decades after the first toy hit store shelves.

But choices for women, ironically, are the very thing that conservatives co-opting Barbie’s name are fighting against. Progressives did the same thing with the Sarah Palin “Caribou Barbie” fiasco of the 2008 presidential election, just from the opposite side of the political spectrum. This time around, Davis has worked to change abortion policies in Texas, and more broadly, to push Texas off the red ledge and make it a blue state. She just happens to wear pink shoes while she is doing it. “This level of vitriol from the right tells me one thing: they know that Wendy Davis offers the kind of real change that Texas voters want — and they are scared to death of her because of it,” Elisabeth Pearson, political director of the Democratic Governors Association, wrote in an e-mail to supporters on Monday.

If there’s anything that Davis, Palin and Barbie share, it is that there is a cost to rising quickly into the national consciousness, especially when you are one of America’s most famous and beautiful women. And, politics aside, Barbie could add “social-media adviser” to her growing list of careers. She tweets regularly from her @Barbie handle to her more than 180,000 followers. At least she could teach people like Erickson and Abbott a few social-media best practices: when Barbie tweets, she inspires her sisterhood to achieve their dreams. She doesn’t use appearance as a way of belittling a woman’s success.

73 comments
DickObama
DickObama

Can we just compare Wendy Davis to a true Barbie doll. A blond with nothing but open space between the ears.

LouiseField
LouiseField

Except for the sadly imagination lacking Barbie comparisons - please do not compare Palin and Davis....there is nothing remotely similar of the two candidates - can we instead start calling the men right wing left wing Ken- that will be way more fun!!! - oh yeah and then we can compare what color shoes they guys where too!

justadad
justadad

I'd call Erickson and Abbott Misogynist Ken dolls, but that's insulting to Ken, who is better looking and more articulate than either of those jerks.

Lar5
Lar5

It's Texas running true to form

nannas84
nannas84

i find it faltering they referred to Wendy as a barbie, because the creator of barbie is an AMAZING woman. she changed the roles of women in the work place. Men feared this woman, and she would never let a MAN intimidate her. Read any story about her, and you'll get the image of a hardcore lady sitting behind a desk smoking a cigar running her empire

PoppaCharlie
PoppaCharlie

Overgrown children masquerading as adults - again.  A pox on "clever" politicians.

OhMyDog
OhMyDog

Really, Greg Abbot? Retard? What are you, a five year old? That's when my kids learned that they were not to use that as an insult or as a descriptor in anything but music.

SteveZenkitten
SteveZenkitten

This is less an issue of politics and more an issue of people not being clever enough to come up with insults that haven't been overused for centuries. C'mon, politicians: get creative with your snide remarks.

licavolisr
licavolisr

I"m a conservative from Texas, had five daughters and have a great respect for Barbie....catheter Windy is beyond respect.

hgersh65
hgersh65

Leave my Ken Cuch doll alone! He never took no bribe money! He's everything RIGHT about Vaginia!

bettyanngallo
bettyanngallo

I can see "Abortion Barbie" being the political pun Halloween costume of 2013 that "Binder Full of Women" was to 2012.

survivor1962
survivor1962

The immature and crude remarks these grown men are making about one of their peers, should tell the voters of Texas that these men are not qualified to lead.  If they don't even respect one of their fellow elected leaders, then how can Texas expect them to respect the people.  Regardless of political affiliation, the women of Texas should find this particularly disturbing...

marula
marula

"And Mattel did not create an African American Barbie until 1980, more than two decades after the first toy hit store shelves." is not a true statement.  Mattel created a 'Julia' Barbie Doll modeled after the TV show in 1969.


Jack_63
Jack_63

So the demoncrats get all pissy when one of their candidates gets tagged with the name Abortion Barbie ? So guess it wasn't ok of them when they called Sarah Palin "Caribou Barbie". Freaking hypocrites.

soundeavor
soundeavor

Elizabeth Dias beats off furiously to Bob Filner, Bill Clinton, Elliot Spitzer, John Edwards, Ted Kennedy, and Anthony Weiner

FrankHill
FrankHill

Bob Filner, Bill Clinton, Elliot Spitzer, John Edwards, Ted Kennedy, Anthony Weiner-the Democrat War on Women-media does its best to downplay Democrats when they physically abuse women,

US1776
US1776

The GOP's War Against Toy Women.

.

DickObama
DickObama

@KatherineBarcaskey  So you would be happy to murder a baby at 5 months. How about passing a law so that you still have a option in the 4th trimester to still abort a baby.

tommyudo
tommyudo

@OhMyDog 


If Davis is the "Retard Barbie" then I guess  Greg Abbot can be called the "Gimp Ken Doll - Mr. Steel Wheels. How does that go over with the mouth breathers on the right?

KennyWilliams
KennyWilliams

@licavolisr You sir are disgrace to men everywhere.  Disagreeing with Wendy Davis is one thing, but calling her nasty names is childish, disrespectful and misogynistic. 

BrattonAl
BrattonAl

@licavolisr "I'm a conservative from Texas" 

What does that make you? A God? Or just a Goper--"God's Obnoxious People"!  

Hollywooddeed
Hollywooddeed

@licavolisr  

So how does government-forced pregnancy fit into a conservative from Texas' vision of small government utopia?

DanThomas1
DanThomas1

@survivor1962 You do realize all the hate she speaks, right?  If you don't agree with her she takes to the street to tell people what you stand for even if it isn't what you stand for.  Facts seem to not be needed for her to speak.  While she has every right to speak hatefully, but when she does she loses the right to complain when others fight back.  Realize the article isn't about abortion or any other word used except "Barbie" and Mattel doesn't like it.  Well they are a Public company and therefore subject to being referred to in ways they may not like.  As far as being labeled "Abortion Barbie" since she stands for abortions I must assume the problem here is that she is referred to as "Barbie", yes?

KennyWilliams
KennyWilliams

@Jack_63 I guess you would have no objections to be calling Sarah Palin 'Koch Sucking Barbie.'

BrattonAl
BrattonAl

@Jack_63 "caribou barbie" that's not too bad. Stoopid one-half Governor was the one I liked best..

OhMyDog
OhMyDog

No, Mattel gets upset. Barbie is their creation.

mefoster86
mefoster86

If you think "caribou" carries the same stigma as "retard" your opinions are pretty much worthless

bonnydaisy
bonnydaisy

@Jack_63 I'm a liberal and I didn't think it was okay when Sarah Palin was called Caribou Barbie. I don't think it's okay to reduce any of these women to plastic toys. That being said, let's be realistic, "Caribou Barbie" isn't as offensive as "Abortion Barbie" or "Retard Barbie." I'd also like to see Sarah Palin cross the aisle and come out against Abbott's condoning of the word retard, as that as an issue she's felt very strongly about in the past. 

Hollywooddeed
Hollywooddeed

@Jack_63  

I don't see any Democrats getting all pissy about it.  Besides, your "I know you are, but what am I?" argument went out in third grade.

yevrah518
yevrah518

@FrankHill  

I suppose you are more of a Larry Craig kind of guy! I bet you met him in a St Paul airport bathroom many times.

gordonfmd
gordonfmd

@FrankHill Nice try, but FAIL. It's obvious you do not understand the difference between physical abuse and sexual misconduct. Typical deluded conservatard.

Rafterman00
Rafterman00

@FrankHill 

There is a difference between politicians who engage in personal bad conduct with women (and there are just as many with the GOP too - must I really go through the list?) and politicians who press for anti-woman policies in law, like the GOP does - anti-abortion rights, anti-equal pay.

FrankHill
FrankHill

Bob Filner, Bill Clinton, Elliot Spitzer, John Edwards, Ted Kennedy, Anthony Weiner-the Democrat War on Women

bobcn
bobcn

@DanThomas1 @survivor1962

"While she has every right to speak hatefully..."

So far the only one speaking hatefully here is you.  Unless you can provide examples (from non-partisan sources -- not Glen Beck) of the hate speech you claim she's used then there's no reason to believe you.

"...she loses the right to complain when others fight back..."

Uh... No.  You don't have the right to cancel a person's expectation that others will behave civilly When people behave disgustingly (i.e., 'Retard Barbie'), despite attempts to rationalize their behavior, it's still disgusting.


Jack_63
Jack_63

@Hollywooddeed @Jack_63 I actually read most of these post. And yours included indicate alot of pissy demoncrats frothing at the mouth over poor wendy's plight.

gordonfmd
gordonfmd

@FrankHill War? Apparently you don't understand that word, either. You're looking awfully mentally challenged, Frankie.

GarryW.Lemons
GarryW.Lemons

@FrankHill 

Those were affairs you frigging moron...the difference is they didn't go out and PUBLICLY try to take women's rights away...get a grip on reality okay! And at least the affairs were with WOMEN..not MEN..like the GOP favors! bathroom stalls and all...