Advocates Urge Girl Scouts to End Troubling Barbie Partnership

Date of Release: 

Thursday, March 6, 2014

Contact: Josh Golin, CCFC (617-896-9369; josh@commercialfreechildhood.org)
Sarah Baird, New Dream (859-200-3495; sarah@newdream.org)

UPDATE -- 2:20pm EST -- Study Confirms Advocates' Concerns About Girl Scouts' Troubling Partnership with Barbie

A new study just published in the journal Sex Roles confirms that Barbie is not a good model for teaching girls about career possibilities. Researchers found that girls who play with Barbies tend to see fewer career options available to them than they do for boys.

"This important study demonstrates that using Barbie to teach girls that they can ‘Be Anything’ may actually have the opposite effect," said CCFC's Dr. Susan Linn. "We hope this research will help convince GSUSA to end its ill-conceived partnership with Mattel."

Advocates Urge Girl Scouts to End Troubling Barbie Partnership
Is Barbie the role model we want influencing our next generation of female leaders?

Boston—March 6—Campaign for a Commercial-Free Childhood (CCFC) and Center for a New American Dream (New Dream) are urging the Girl Scouts of the USA (GSUSA) to end a partnership with Mattel which promotes Barbie to young girls. The partnership includes a co-branded activity book, website, and a Barbie participation patch for Girl Scout Daisies and Brownies (girls in kindergarten through 3rd grade). In a petition launched today, CCFC and New Dream called on GSUSA to stay true to their mission and stop promoting the Barbie brand.
 
“Holding Barbie, the quintessential fashion doll, up as a role model for Girl Scouts simultaneously sexualizes young girls, idealizes an impossible body type, and undermines the Girl Scouts’ vital mission to 'build girls of courage, confidence, and character,’” said CCFC’s Director Dr. Susan Linn. “It is particularly troubling that the youngest scouts are encouraged to wear a Barbie patch on their uniforms, transforming them into walking advertisements. While Mattel and the Barbie brand benefit enormously from the Girl Scouts’ endorsement, the partnership harms girls.”

Over the years, the Barbie brand has frequently come under fire for promoting harmful stereotypes to young girls. Currently, Mattel is facing heavy criticism for Barbie’s appearance in the notorious Sports Illustrated Swimsuit Issue. GSUSA’s endorsement is particularly valuable as Mattel pushes back against its critics with a campaign declaring that it’s “#unapologetic” about Barbie and her influence on girls.

Research shows that girls ages 5-8—the exact age targeted by the Barbie/Girl Scouts partnership—who are exposed to Barbie reported more dissatisfaction with their own bodies. What’s more, the American Psychological Association Task Force on the Sexualization of Girls singled out dolls like Barbie for presenting a limiting, “objectified sexuality” that is particularly harmful to the doll’s target market.

Encouraging young girls to focus on adolescent preoccupations like physical appearance flies in the face of the concerns expressed in the Girl Scouts’ publication, Teens Before Their Time, about the harms of encouraging young girls to act like teenagers at the expense of their childhood.

“This is product placement at its worst,” said New Dream’s Executive Director Wendy Philleo. “We have always been great admirers of the Girl Scouts and are very disappointed in the recent partnership with Mattel. Our children are already being bombarded by marketers’ pitches at stores, at home, online, on TV, and in school. We urge the Girl Scouts to discontinue this partnership, and maintain their organization as one of the few commercial-free experiences in a girl’s life.”

In announcing the partnership with Mattel, GSUSA’s CEO Anna Marie Chavez called Barbie “an American Icon” whose appeal would encourage girls to “explore exciting new career possibilities.” The campaign tells girls that they can “be anything,” but an inescapable component of that message is that girls should aspire to be like Barbie. Girls visiting the GSUSA’s I Can Be . . . website view pictures of Barbie dolls and are asked to identify their careers based on their attire: from a veterinarian in a frilly mini-skirt, to a pink-suited U.S. president, to a racecar driver in stilettos. Many of the outfits pictured are for sale in Barbie’s I Can Be . . . line.

Added Dr. Linn, “The Girl Scouts have long provided wonderful role models and experiences for girls, but the website is little more than an interactive ad for Barbie promoting the brand’s insidious message that women really are what they wear.”

The partnership is particularly troubling to long-time supporters of GSUSA’s mission, such as New Dream’s Edna Rienzi, a troop leader and mother of 3 Girl Scouts. “I am a huge fan of the Girl Scouts organization, and I take my responsibility as a troop leader very seriously. Because of this high regard, I am particularly disappointed in the partnership between the Girl Scouts and Mattel. Mattel may be #unapologetic about Barbie’s influence on young girls, but I expect more from the Girl Scouts.”

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