I Tried To Play Feminist Barbies With My Nieces And Kinda Failed

I think I’m a decent aunt. Not so good at remembering birthdays, admittedly, but what I lack in presents-giving, I make up for in lots of facetime. We play all kinds of games — usually “doctor,” in which I pretend to have some terrible malady wrought by a zoo animal (“Help! A hippopotamus bit my leg off!”) and they wrap toilet paper (“bandages”) around me pretending to fix it. Either we do that, or we play Barbies.

Usually my nieces’ Barbie dolls are going to a ball to meet a prince. It doesn’t matter if she’s Color-Change Mermaid Barbie or I Can Be USA President Barbie. She is always going to a ball to meet a prince. Sometimes directly after the ball, she and the prince get married. So, last weekend when I was babysitting, I tried to set the tone for something different.

Perhaps I had the jitters because there was a new Barbie doll in the box o’ Barbies. She was dressed like a sexy cat with whiskers drawn on her face, wearing a skimpy top, black stilettos and a miniskirt with the words “Meow! Meow!” written all over it. She looked like a cross between a member of the Pussycat Dolls and Julia Roberts in “Pretty Woman.”

“Hmmm! Why is she dressed like this?” I asked my niece Elly*.

“That’s her Halloween costume,” she replied, like, Duh. Well, at least it was her Halloween costume.

I pulled a naked Barbie from a box and dressed her in a yellow gown. (Barbie’s closet seems to be entirely gowns and miniskirts.) Then I announced, “My Barbie is a doctor.”

I cleared my throat. “She’s a pediatric oncologist. That means she helps kids with cancer. She graduated at the top of her class from Yale. No, Harvard. She is trying to find the cure for lymphoma.”

Elly looked at me. Mackenzie*, my other niece, looked at me.

My Barbie is a hairdresser,” said Elly.

My Barbie is a ballet dancer,” said Mackenzie.

“Great!” I said. “My Barbie needs to get her hair done for her graduation from medical school.”

Elly’s Barbie then started “doing” my Barbie’s hair. I tried again. “Maybe one day, she’ll run for office,” I mused. “She could be a senator. She could sit on the Senate Judiciary Committee.”

“I like her gown,” Mackenzie replied.

Once my Barbie’s hair was done, it was time to check out an injury on Mackenzie’s Barbie. “You must have been injured while dancing!” I cooed in my Barbie-voice. “Let me do some X-rays. I’ll call my radiologist!”  I grabbed the Barbie dressed like a slutty cat. Mackenzie looked at me weird.

I patched up Mackenzie’s Barbie, so she could dance again. Together our Barbies danced. I tried one more time. “Okay, time to go to the graduation ceremony! Yay! Hooray for me!”

“Yay!” Said Elly. She grabbed a naked Ken doll. “After that, let’s go to the ball and dance!”

*Names have been changed 

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