Feminist Friday – Toy Stories

Each week the Fawcett team will be scouring the media and blogosphere to bring you our top essential feminist posts from the past 7 days – the good, the bad and the ugly…

The holidays are coming and, as we have come to expect in November, marketing for ‘gift ideas’ has gone nuts. You might have seen seven year-old Maggie, above, pulling an impressively miserable face when she saw superheroes labelled by Tesco as “fun gifts for boys”. Maggie had had enough of being told her favourite toys weren’t for her and so had her mum, Karen Cole, who posted the picture on Twitter. Within hours it had been re-tweeted more than 10,000 times, forcing Tesco to apologise and remove the sign from all of its stores – clearly Maggie and Karen are a force to be reckoned with!

Coming from the other side of the Atlantic, Franchesca Ramsey’s article for Upworthy about Barbie’s terrifyingly unrealistic body proportions and a new ‘more real’ doll that has been launched as an alternative made us smile (although we are fully aware it is also a pre-Christmas sales pitch)! The creator of the new doll, Nickolay Lamm, based ‘Lammily’ on the average measurements of 19 year old American women. He took the concept to Kickstarter in March 2014 to crowdfund the idea, and it quickly went viral, raising over $100,000 in a few days. Lammily is now in production, and comes with customisation stickers – so you can give her freckles, tattoos, glasses, (and even cellulite and stretchmarks..!)

In November 2014, Nickolay took one of the first finished Lammily dolls and a traditional Barbie doll to a school to see what kids thought of the two of them next to each other. Their comments were really interesting (even through the cynical lens of advertising…) – they all said they could see themselves more in the Lammily doll, and they all liked her more than Barbie. One little girl described the ‘average-sized’ doll as “nice, and like the perfect size.” We’re not sure she’s perfect – but having dolls with greater diversity is surely a good thing, and hopefully the range will increase to include more ethnic diversity too.

Like Franchesca, we found the jobs that the kids thought each doll would have particularly powerful – they imagined that Lammily might be a teacher, a swimmer, or work with computers, while Barbie was a fashion star, a model, and one child stated “she doesn’t look like she’d do any job.”

The people at Mattel, who have made Barbie since her conception in 1959, clearly don’t agree – and created ‘Barbie: I can be a Computer Programmer’ – both as a book and as a doll (accessorised with a hot pink laptop and matching hot pink glasses, obvs). The book has caused quite a stir amongst the online feminist community, after the author Pamela Ribon wrote a blog about it last week. Sadly the story goes that Barbie can’t really be a computer programmer – as she screws up her sister’s computer and has to rely on her two male friends, Brian and Steven, to fix it. And then it turns out that Barbie is actually not interested in programming at all:


With fabulous style, Kathleen Tuite launched a website where you can hack the original book and retell the story. Computing PhD student Casey Fiesler’s version, ‘Barbie: I can be a Computer Engineer, the remix!’ is pretty special – and there are lots more to read via #FeministHackerBarbie

Sum of Us started a petition to get Mattel to change the book, and they have since pulled the book from stores. We’re looking forward to the seeing the new and improved book soon, and we hope they’ll ask Casey and Kathleen for guidance…

What are your tips for feminist-friendly gifts for children? And don’t forget to share what you have been reading this week… Happy Feminist Friday! x

Share this page: