Tuesday, 14 June 2011

Barbie Doll Poem

“Barbie Doll” appears in Piercy’s 1973 collection, To Be of Use. By using the iconic image of the Barbie doll as a kind of straw “man,” Piercy implicitly criticizes the ways in which women are socialized into stereotypical feminine behavior. Written as a fairy-tale of sorts, “Barbie Doll” suggests that the enormous social pressures on women to conform to particular ways of looking and behaving are ultimately destructive. Her ironic tone barely conceals a simmering rage at prescribed gender roles that eat away at women’s self-confidence and wreak havoc on their self-image. Piercy suggests that corporate America, embodied by Barbie’s maker, Mattel Toys, participates in our patriarchal system by perpetuating gender stereotypes. The Barbie doll, one of the best-selling “toys” of all time, has become an icon of U.S. culture for the way it idealizes the female body. For more than 40 years parents have been buying the doll, along with Barbie’s companion, Ken, for their daughters, who attempt to emulate Barbie’s appearance and the values that that appearance embodies. Indeed, in some segments of society, the term “Barbie Doll” itself has become a term of derision, signifying an attractive, but vapid, blonde who will do what she is told. Piercy skewers this image, implying that it is inherently destructive. Piercy’s poem has been reprinted a number of times. Its accessibility and clearly defined—yet not simplistic—stance toward its subject make it one of her more popular pieces.

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