Barbie Vs. Mrs. Potato Head! Which Toy Instills Career Confidence In Young Girls?

March 7, 2014  |  

A few weeks ago, MN was all gung-ho about Mattel’s new “Entrepreneur Barbie.” But now, we just might be a little iffy about it all. A new study finds that young girls are more empowered by Mrs. Potato Head than career dolls — like Doctor Barbie or Dentist Barbie — because Mrs. Potato Head isn’t “sexualized.”

In a nutshell, the study says that it doesn’t matter if you dress up the busty blonde in pencil skirts, lab coats, or business suits — Barbie still “suppresses a little girl’s career ambitions,” the LA Times says.

About 40 girls, ages four to seven, were asked if they could do any of 10 jobs when they grew up. They were also asked if boys could do the same occupations. Half of those careers were traditionally female-dominated; the other half were traditionally male-dominated.

Lead investigators concluded that these tots — after playing with both “Doctor Barbie” and “Fashion Barbie” — judged themselves as tackling 1.5 fewer occupations than boys could.

However, when the little girls played with PlaySkool’s Mrs. Potato Head, they were more confident about their own capabilities: “Girls who played with Mrs. Potato Head reported nearly the same number of possible careers for themselves and for boys,” said Ohio State University, the institution behind the experiment.

Why is this so? Though Barbie might be holding a briefcase or a stethoscope, Mattel still places great emphasis on Barbie’s appearance: high-heeled shoes, make-up, purses, accessories etc. Meanwhile, Mrs. Potato Head is rotund with detachable features that can be used to make the funky tuber as wacky-looking as possible!

“Playing with Barbie has an effect on girls’ ideas about their place in the world,” said Aurora M. Sherman, a professor in the School of Psychological Science at OSU. “It creates a limit on the sense of what’s possible for their future. While it’s not a massive effect, it is a measurable and statistically significant effect.”

It’s interesting that Marilyn Nagel — CEO of women’s leadership non-profit Watermark — shared the same sentiment about Mattel’s focus on fashion, looks, and physique just a few weeks ago:

“The more we reinforce this old notion of young girls getting value from their looks, hair or pretty dress, the more we push them into that categorization and the harder it is to break later in life,” she said. “There are women entrepreneurs in tech […] and in every other facet of business that would not walk into a meeting looking like [Barbie, in order] to command respect,” she said.

But of course, there are a few holes in this experiment that need to be examined. How is it possible that Mrs. Potato Head, being an unemployed wife to Mr. Potato Head, can be more empowering than a career doll? The lead investigators admit there’s much more to be analyzed from this study in the future.

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