Barbie-blaming

by Guest Blogger // 13 June 2011, 14:50

Sophie Mayer is the author of The Private Parts of Girls and The Cinema of Sally Potter

Image from Greenpeace campaign, saying Greenpeace’s new campaign to protect rainforests in Indonesia from deforestation has taken a bizarre turn: blaming Barbie. Not just for the sexualisation of girls, for which the government appears to hold her responsible, but for the wholesale destruction of rainforests by a multinational company.

While many feminists, such as PinkStinks, have campaigned against the unrealistic image of femininity propounded by Mattel and other toy manufacturers, few have gone so far as to personify the doll and blame her for logging, poaching and plastics manufacture. The campaign’s microsite states: “Barbie is on the rampage. She's trashing rainforests in Indonesia, including areas that are home to some of the last tigers, orang-utans and elephants, just so she can wrap herself in pretty packaging,” implicitly playing on the stereotype of the female shopper ‘on the rampage’, beautifying herself at the environment’s expense.

The campaign, which has bus shelter posters and online video featuring Ken “dumping” Barbie for her “trashy” ways, glosses over the fact that Ken is also, of course, made out of plastic by Mattel, a company largely controlled by male executives, whose business is to sell their products (Ken included) to young people.

Were Greenpeace to roll out a complementary campaign featuring Action Man or GI Joe being court-martialled for his rampages through the rainforest (a storyline actually represented in military action comics based on the characters, whether in WWII-era Burma or Vietnam), it would be an even-handed address - as well as offering a serious point about the socialisation of young men through military toys that implicitly condone violent action with devastating ecological consequences.

No such campaign exists, which leads to the conclusion that Greenpeace is looking specifically to shame female consumers, both parents and children. The coercive ‘shame’ of being dumped by Ken uses a narrative of male moral authority disciplining women for consuming to ornament themselves. While an advertisement that encourages everyone who sees it to recognise and take action about the connections between our consumer habits and environmental degradation by multinationals is welcome, Greenpeace’s use of Barbie-blaming tells a tired story of cherchez la femme, in which it’s venal, appearance-obsessed, fallible women who get us cast out of Paradise. Break up with Mattel by all means, but don’t blame Barbie.

Comments From You

Diane S // Posted 13 June 2011 at 15:23

How bizarre. I agree it's woman-shaming, but it's such a strange idea I'm not sure it even does what it intends to do, as anyone reading it will think "But isn't Ken just as bad?" Plus, I hate it when environmental problems are reduced to the level of consumer choice, as if we're responsible for the means of production. I love to know what I can do better but don't welcome guilt and shame, and think it often has the opposite effect.

Subopdiscourse // Posted 13 June 2011 at 15:45

This pretty sums up what I thought when I saw this campaign and I was very disturbed by how they chose to use Barbie, I mean, Barbie IS a symbol of the beauty standard, racism and sexism, so using Barbie would require an EXTREME attention to what message you're spreading. Of course Greenpeace did not think about it. It's sad because I'm feminist and also an ecological activist, (and I usually support Greenpeace) so I always wonder why do we have to trade environment for sexism, cant we fight both?

Jennifer Drew // Posted 13 June 2011 at 18:41

Line up line up who's next in line to scapegoat females for men's ongoing destruction of our world? But wait a minute blaming women is par for the course because this is what male supremacy does 24/7 so why have Greenpeace got in on the act?

Oh because it is so 'edgy and daring' to make the ludicrous claim that a toy doll is supposedly responsible for adult men's decisions to wreck havoc in the world. But such scapegoating serves a purpose does it not? Because it portrays men as the good guys and women as the bad what??? Oh yes bad Barbies because women are plastic toys to be used and exploited by men.

But it is to be expected given Greenpeace or should it be Malelogic. Given for the umpteenth time misogynistic men really do believe women are responsible for men's ills. Because the world is indeed run by men for men and women exist only to be men's convenient scapegoats.

I never realised the immense socio-economic power women have or the fact that women have managed for centuries to keep this immense socio-economic/ecological power so carefully hidden away from the male gaze.

Proves yet again as herstory has told women time and again - let any male run an organisation or let men dominate an organisation and male contempt for women will be rampant. Greenpeace you are misogynists and no you are not concerned about the world's ecological systems instead your perogative is to maintain the male supremacist system and male domination over all women.

Dump your misogyny Greenpeace because you are not being 'edgy' or even radical instead you are employing centuries old white men's tactics of women-blaming and male contempt for women. News flash Greenpeace women comprise the majority of the human race but unlike men we continue to be denied even a smidgen of real socio-economic power. So accountability rests with men - never women because we don't have that power.

anywavewilldo // Posted 13 June 2011 at 22:09

Greenpeace didn't surprise me with this - they've never been very profeminist ever since the days they were trying to boss Greenham women around (failed). Also I think they are confused about Ken - everyone knows he's Barbie's gay best friend and so not going to be dumping any hers.

Kate // Posted 14 June 2011 at 10:21

When I complained to Greenpeace UK on Twitter about this, they said "what's not to love?" about the campaign. I explained, they didn't reply. Apart from the woman-blaming, the "getting dumped" as the worst thing that could happen EVER, and casting Ken as the morally upright hero who cares about the rainforest, they've used the excuse for plenty of pictures of scantily-clad women campaigners to an extent that's starting to remind me of PETA's crappy tactics. They've pretty much lost my support, which is a shame, as they do some otherwise fantastic work. But I won't accept being humiliated as a woman to be accepted as an ecologist.

Agnieszka // Posted 16 June 2011 at 09:12

"I always wonder why do we have to trade environment for sexism, cant we fight both?" Exactly, Subopdiscourse. That's the question I'm asking myself as well. For me the problem with this campaign is also the language that they are using - I mean "f***ing b*tch!" that Ken is saying. Why do they promote such insults? There is a group on Facebook against the sexist form of this campaign: http://www.facebook.com/help.greenpeace.respect.women
And a short video: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=0DR1YYfslOw
We are commenting and mailing GP about this but they don't have guts to reply officially. Pity... Mattel answered them, so the corporation treated Greenpeace better than Greenpeace is treating their opponents...

Jake // Posted 22 June 2011 at 08:35

@anywavewilldo
While I'm totally on board with the Greenpeace criticism, I didn't think that allusion to Ken's sexual orientation was necessary. It blatantly promotes the "gay best friend" trope and idea of gay men being an accessory for women (and less frequently men) to tote around. In addition to this, it also promotes the idea of what are typically considered to be feminine characteristics exhibited in men, such as an interest in fashion or being well-groomed, equating to non-heterosexuality.

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Also, it took me a little bit of net-searching to buy into this criticism of the campaign, but after reading several comments and articles I'm totally on board.

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