HELEN BURTON: We're all set for a feminist Christmas

When I was growing up girls' expectations for life were generally still to get married and have children, and as careers we usually thought about being teachers, nurses or take on some sort of caring role, if we thought about careers at all.
Helen BurtonHelen Burton
Helen Burton

As I got older this gradually changed and we were encouraged to believe that we could be anything we wanted as adults. Equality is now the expectation (if not the reality), but sadly children’s toy manufacturers and retailers still haven’t caught up with this notion. The first frustration, particularly noticeable at this time of year, is that toy aisles in shops are separated into toys for boys and toys for girls. Why? There is no need for this and it reinforces unnecessary and unhelpful stereotypes. My daughter is at an age where she is developing her personality and questioning what it is to be a woman. However much you try to protect them from it girls are being given the message that we all have to look and act like a Kardashian in order to be successful. My daughter has a new interest in Barbie dolls, which is not a problem as dolls are a good way to ‘practice’ real life in a safe way, however the range of dolls available is, frankly, not only depressing but repressing.

I want her to be happy and decided to try to find dolls and accessories that reflect real women and careers to encourage more positive self-beliefs, but it’s been so hard. I found a Barbie firefighter, palaeontologist, paratrooper and entrepreneur. Two of these were only available from the States (thank goodness I started shopping early). The dolls exist but they are very difficult to get hold of. Also, if you want a Barbie of a different ethnicity they are more expensive and again, not widely available. 
I’m told there is a Barbie with a more normal figure too, but I’ve never seen one. What’s even more frustrating to me is that all of the Barbie accessories available revolve around the home, caring for children/animals or looking attractive. I’ve bought my daughter a book on the suffragette movement and am trying to talk about and model alternative lifestyle choices but I can’t help but think I am fighting a losing battle sometimes when she is given sexist messages all around her, all of the time. So this Christmas I’ve gone rogue. I found a scientist Barbie (she’s a scientist because she has a microscope in her hand) and I’ve got an old Barbie kitchen I’ve turned into a science lab. Christmas Day in our house we will be curing cancer, the paratrooper Barbie will be delivering aid to Syria and entrepreneur Barbie will be elected prime minister and end austerity. The male dolls I bought can join in the fun and Ken and his husband Action Man can throw a party for everyone at the end of the day. Hope you have as much fun as we are going to have this Christmas, have a good one!

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