Girls’ Studies: 1980s Barbie Glamour Home
This week’s girls’ studies blog assignment is to locate a cultural object related to girls’ play and analyze it with the following questions. How do you know it is meant for girls? What would happen if a boy were to play with it? Is this a product of a particular era? Is it aimed toward a particular class/subset of girls? Would possession of the object bestow a certain status upon its owner? How was the object marketed? Was it popular, or relatively unknown?
I have chosen to focus on the 1980s Barbie Glamour Home because I always wanted one and I never got it. I even compensated for it when I had my first baby by getting her a large wooden dollhouse that doubles as a bookcase. Of course, she never really plays with it. She doesn’t like Barbies. I, however, loved Barbies as a child. I realize the complications of that with my feminist leanings, but that’s just the way it was. I was a girly girl.
To watch the commercial I used for this analysis, please click on this link: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=e-BpY0qfHYo
Also, here’s a picture.
We know this object is meant for girls because it is pink and purple. We also know this because the commercial shows girls playing with it and the narration features a woman’s voice with a babyish tone. In addition, words like “decorate,” “glamour,” “beautiful,” and “elegant” are used to describe what one should do with or believe about this object. These tend to be words that are directed toward girls. I would say a big indicator of this is the fact that if boys played with this, they might be ridiculed. It also doesn’t tend to appeal to more stereotypical masculine features, such as action, violence, and aggression. The music of the commercial is soothing and the play is serene.
I know that boys, however, do play with Barbies, but mainly when their peers aren’t looking or when they can create a game that has more action than Peaches and Cream Barbie (whom I did have, pictured below) ascending a stair case and offering to give a “grand tour.” I had six boy cousins, all brothers, who often came to visit us during holidays. We would, of course, get out our Barbies and make those boys play with us. They reluctantly agreed, and used the Ken dolls. After joining in, they would gain some momentum and make things much more exciting than we usually played. I remember one of these episodes and the boys warning us that if we ever told anybody, including another set of cousins, that they would deny it. But I could tell they enjoyed it a little bit.
The glamour home was a popular product of the 1980s. I remember wanting one and visiting friends’ homes who had them. It was marketed on television, and of course, in big displays in the stores. I would beg and beg but never got it. I would envy my friends, who spent their time decorating the mansion and even creating their own accessories and furniture for it. I often saved random objects, like milk cartons or tiny cups, imagining that I would wash them, fix them up, and use them as Barbie objects in the glamour home, once I got it.
I think the glamour home is aimed at middle to upper class girls, especially those who are white. I say white because of the girls depicted in the commercial and the fact that Barbie was mostly white then. I remember only ever having one black Barbie and not until the 1990s. (Yes, I played with Barbies for THAT long.) I think this object would have been aimed at the middle or upper classes because of the capitalist values it embodies. Giving a “grand tour” of one’s mansion is something a girl with money might see her parents do or imagine herself doing. In addition, one of the claims of the commercial is that Barbie and her girl can decorate the mansion. This is a leisure activity that requires money. In this way, the object may have had some sort of power to bestow status. I don’t know if that status necessarily related to the type of status that adults ascribe to their homes these days, but I do remember feeling envious of the girls I knew that had this Barbie house.
But homes are status symbols, and in that way, these miniature homes would therefore be status symbols, too. My husband and I were just talking about how our home sometimes has too much room for us. We finished our basement a few years ago and only really use two of the rooms down there. We could do with less space. Yet we know so many people in our neighborhood who are moving away for larger homes. It becomes a way of showing that one has moved up in the world or “made it” and can finally afford to symbolize that with their home. In that way, Barbie does the same for the girl who owns her mansion.
I keep thinking about the plot of Toy Story 3 (which I have had the good fortune of seeing so many times that I can’t number them), in which Ken has the dream home and Barbie is mesmerized by it. Once she realizes that Ken is in with the “evil” toys and that he’s quite vain and narcissistic (with his wardrobe and the house a symbol of that), she uses those qualities to trick him and ultimately helps Woody, Buzz, and the gang triumph. So while a dream house (even Barbie’s dream house) might be a status symbol, it can also represent hubris, greed, and vanity.
We certainly see some of that in the commercial, with Peaches and Cream Barbie ascending the staircase in her ostentatious gown, as if life is about prancing about one’s house in an evening gown. This, along with the status symbol of the house, may send the wrong message to girls about what life will be like when they grow up and own their own homes. Much of actual home ownership is cleaning and maintenance and yard work. I hardly ever wear my old evening gowns, except, of course, when I’m vacuuming or cleaning food up off the floor after my children have eaten.