No, William Still Can’t Have That Doll

This advertisement for Barbie’s Dream House represents a highly gendered toy. The color scheme for the toy consists of entirely pinks and purples – colors traditionally associated with female children and often denied to any boys. Barbie herself, along with all of her friends, is also female – the only male doll is presented in a context that makes it clear that he is meant to be treated as Barbie’s boyfriend, not a separate entity. The “highlights” of the house are also highly gendered, with emphases on the kitchen and closets – “there is even a second elevator… just for clothes!” Finally, the 2 glimpses of models that we see are also female, made clear by their similarly pink and purple clothes.


Martin discusses a new-wave of child-rearing, in which parents “encouraged expanded roles for girls at home, at school, at work, and in the media… they encouraged renouncing or at least limiting, for example, dresses, makeup, fairy tales, and housework, all understood as constraints on girls’ lives,” (Martin 458). Yet this Barbie ad betrays a world in whcih such movements are not being embraced. That the various household activities Barbie can now accomplish are glamorized in the commercial reflect similar societal pressures on the girls who play with these toys. Furthermore, that the only Barbie set sold is a house makes it clear that Barbie’s sphere is meant to be interpreted, as are all women’s, as remaining in the home – a sad state indeed. 



Martin, Karin A. William Wants a Doll. Can He Have One? Feminists, Child Care Advisors, and Gender-Neutral Child Rearing. Gender and Society,  Vol 19, No. 4 (Aug., 2005), pp 456-479.


2 thoughts on “No, William Still Can’t Have That Doll

  1. rlaur2013

    I agree that this commercial definitely doesn’t go against norms or encourage children, or particularly, little girls (the target audience) to think outside of the cultural box. Unfortunately this commercial is very heteronormative in that the only male doll, as you mentioned, is presented as Barbie’s boyfriend as opposed to being a platonic friend. Also, the excessive amounts of pinks and purples in this commercial further perpetuates that “these colors are girly” and therefore that boys shouldn’t play with them. Also, just looking at the body types and fashion of the female dolls: the proportions are extremely unrealistic and the clothing is very limiting as to how someone who identifies as female can express their gender.

  2. gficeraigarland

    The perpetuation of gendered toys is highly problematic. The separation of toys by gender is a reflection of the prevalence of gender in all aspects of society. For example, the other day I was picking out a birthday card for my cousin, and was shocked to notice for the first time that even birthday cards, seemingly gender-neutral items, are separated according to gender. My question is, why?

    An additional problem with toys like Barbie are the heteronormative and beauty standards that they promote. Barbie represents the western-cultural ideal of beauty, with huge blue eyes, fair skin, platinum blonde hair, and slender body. Her bodily proportions are physically impossible for most women to achieve, perpetuation an impossible standard for little girls to aspire to. I recently came across an article, (, about a new “Average Barbie.” Average Barbie, however, is not so average at all; despite being shorter and slightly broader that Mattel’s Barbie, she still has a flat stomach, long blonde hair, and typical white features. It would be interesting to compare the popularity of this more-realistic Barbie with the original. The fact that this alternative model is considered “average” still perpetuates high standards for beauty, but is no doubt a step in the right direction. Hopefully, one day, there will be Barbies of all races, body types, gender roles, and sexualities.


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