The Girl Scouts of the USA is under pressure from the Campaign for a Commercial-Free Childhood and the Center for a New American Dream to end its partnership with Barbie, which it began last summer. The organization teamed up with Mattel to offer a Barbie webpage, activity book and uniform patch for Girl Scouts aged 5 to 8. The partnership marked the first ever Girl Scout patch that has corporate sponsorship, which sounds all kinds of skeevy to me.
I was a Girl Scout growing up, and I loved it. The theme of my troop’s meetings was all about learning how much we were capable of. I didn’t know it then, but those weekly Girl Scout meetings were instilling in me how important it was to be an ally to other women, to stand up for what I believed in even if it was against the grain, and to never assume I couldn’t do something just because I was a girl — whether it was pursuing a career in mechanical engineering or just being able to use a power drill to fix something without the help of a dude. In fact, you might say that at the ripe age of 6, Girl Scouts was the most feminist thing I ever did.
In a way, Barbie falls in line with lots of those positive ideals. After all, she’s had every job under the sun from astronaut to presidential candidate. She’s an independent woman who breaks glass ceilings left and right, but I don’t think that makes up for her shallowness or the nagging sense of inadequacy she instills in little girls.
“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 Susan Linn, the director of the Campaign for a Commercial-Free Childhood.
The organization pointed to a game on the Girl Scouts’ Barbie website that asks girls to take a quiz identifying careers based on outfits, “from a veterinarian in a frilly miniskirt, to a pink-suited U.S. president, to a race car driver in stilettos,” driving home the whole “women are what they wear” attitude that Barbie promotes.
My curiosity got the better of me and I took the quiz. I was asked to choose accessories that fit each profession. Teachers were paired with school books, astronauts got pink helmets. At first, I was relieved by the fact that among the many careers offered up, there was no mention of a princess or pop star, which are just about the only two occupations pushed at little girls among modern toys (which is not to say that girls shouldn’t want those things, they just deserve to know that there are other dreams out there too). I started to think that maybe Girl Scouts was onto something and that I’d been too quick to judge. But just as I was relishing in that idea, I clicked to the next quiz question and there it was — the dreaded “rock star” career path. Soon afterward, I was presented with “movie star” as a career option, complete with a sparkly gown. Next up was a ballerina, whose assigned accessory was a tiara. Not ballet shoes or tights, a freakin’ tiara. People are handing out virtual crowns to America’s little girls and calling it empowering. BRB, crying for the death of society.
Beyond what Barbie stands for, the whole notion of Girl Scouts letting corporations sponsor patches really doesn’t sit will with me. Girl Scout patches are earned when a kid completes an activity or learns a new skill. I can’t help but think that instead of a symbol of achievement, the Barbie patch is just a creepy way to reward six-year-olds for drinking Mattel corporate Kool-Aid and sitting through a thinly veiled sales pitch. Linn hit the nail on the head when she said that the Barbie patch would turn the girls into ”walking advertisements.”
So far the Girl Scouts’ headquarters has rejected the groups’ urging that they end the arrangement. “Our partnership with Mattel focuses on career exploration and teaches girls about inspiring women in a fun way. We stand behind this partnership, as it helps us bring to over 2 million Girl Scouts the message that they can do anything.” I’m pretty sure that’s a message they’ve been delivering fine without an advertiser’s help for the past hundred years.
Wendy Philleo, New American Dream’s executive director and a longtime admirer of Girl Scouts, said, “This is product placement at its worst,” and that “our children are already being bombarded by marketers’ pitches at stores, at home, online, on TV, and in school.”
I hope the Girl Scouts’ powers that be have a change of heart and continue to be one of the last refuges kids have against advertisers. To me and to so many of today’s little girls, Girl Scouts is a haven for personal growth and female friendship — that’s what makes it so special. I’m sure they know what the right thing to do is.