When Mattel unveiled the new Katniss Everdeen Barbie this past week, I expected another hyper-sexualized Barbie that looked like Jennifer Lawrence. Eh. But who am I to dismiss a feminist Barbie? So I took another look.
The characteristics are standard Barbie. Swathed in mascara? Check. The waist of an unrealistic waif? Check. Slightly resembles a “fighting fuck toy”? Check. But once I zoomed in on the larger photo, I was dazzled by the cargo pants, black parka, combat boots and archery set. Though my three-year old won’t know who Katniss Everdeen is from a hole in the wall, it’s clear that her combat-leaning outfit might make any pink-clad tutu-wearing, blue-eye-shadow-wearing Barbie run for the hills. No mistake: This Katniss Everdeen Barbie can shoot an arrow through your heart.
I love her.
I understand that The Hunger Games casting has been criticized for whitewashing, and that the doll does not represent the book’s character but the Katniss of the film (though the doll’s skin appears more olive than Lawrence’s skin does). As someone who was up to her ears in Barbies as a child—I cut off all of their hair in hopes that it would one day grow back—this Barbie is an original. Even the doll’s messaging is built for a feminist: Mattel’s designers said they wanted to embody the “heroic” Katniss. Sure, Mattel has manufactured Soccer Barbie and Surfing Barbie and Road Trip Barbie, or whatever. But a heroic Barbie is a first. Hell, a Barbie without a fashion statement is a first.
The Katniss Everdeen Barbie is not the first action doll free of over-sexualized characterization. Take a look at G.I. Joe’s Scarlett, an undercover agent who carries an Uzi. Or Artist Valkyrie’s one-of-a kind dolls, including this “Buffy” she made on commission. Factory paint was stripped from Buffy’s face, then she was dressed in the coolest get-up a Barbie has ever seen: full leather pants and a red leather coat. Buffy even has her own, yes, ax and knife.
What’s the mass-market alternative for those not wanting to spend over $1000 on a doll? Or the alternative for those who don’t want their three-year-old to play with a machine gun? Not much. Hold these dolls up to the other latest incarnation of strong-women dolls, President Barbie (who, despite her insulting “Legally Blonde” look is being launched in partnership with The White House Project, a nonprofit organization that encourages women to seek political positions.) I’ll choose Katniss Barbie every time.
Still, I called upon my feminist mom friends to make sure I hadn’t completely lost my mind, and at least two of them admitted wanting to buy the Katniss Barbie for their kids. This includes Lisa Duggan of The Motherhood Blog, who said while all of her daughter’s Barbie dolls “are hand-me-downs—and they are all stripped bare, hair cut off, or frozen in the freezer. This is the first one I’ll purchase for her,” and Shannon Drury of The Radical Housewife, who admitted that even her 12-year-old son was on board.
Yes I understand, as another mom pointed out, that the Katniss Barbie isn’t making any feminist strides in the body-image department—the doll is gorgeous and thin—but she’s powerful as well. As a sociologist once told me, it’s not the dolls that are the problem, it’s the way girls play with them. If the girl only stays within the stereotype of the doll—i.e., if she’s only playing “princess” with it—that’s when a parent should be concerned. Since the Katniss Everdeen Barbie already breaks stereotype by being an action hero, then she’s already a success.
This originally appeared on Femamom.com
Photo from Barbie Collector