Lisa Simpson and Barbie’s place in the discussion of Feminism by Lena Lannutti

One of the important aspects of Barbie is not just the doll itself but how it is shaped (and has influenced) society and gender roles. In 1996, The Simpsons inspired by Mattel’s release of ‘The Teen Talk Barbie’ released the episode Lisa vs Malibu Stacy. This is one of many examples of satire and critique in the realm of the television show. It is also one of the best examples of a critique of sexism within the series.

     The Simpsons from the beginning provided social commentary on numerous aspects of American life. Matthew Henry writes, “Importantly, The Simpsons most commonly offers its satire from a leftist political position, and it works from this position to lambaste, among other things, the universality and normativity of so‐called ‘traditional family values’…” [1] The Simpsons’ dysfunctionality itself is a broad example of upsetting notions of traditional family values. In this episode specifically, it is Lisa’s crusade against sexism that is the major aspect of this “leftist political position” the Simpson writers established.

The satire mirrors real world aspects surrounding Barbie and sexism as well as the corporate nature of the doll. The “Talking Malibu Stacey Doll” mirrors the real life “Teen Talking Barbie” and the episode homages the real-life tactics used to call out the sexism of the talking doll by activists. “the BLO [Barbie Liberation Organization] saw potential for social commentary and began switching the voiceboxes of the Teen Talk Barbie and the Talking Duke G.I. Joe and then placing them back on store shelves for unsuspecting consumers…”[2]  The episode features one of the dolls quoting Spider-Man.

On top of that, the tactics used by the corporate Malibu Stacey execs compare to that of Barbie’s in the 80s. Jill Barad, a former CEO at Mattel has said, “In marketing what you want to do is, you want to flank your brand… so there’s very few areas of access for competitors”[3]The end of the episode ties into this notion, as Malibu Stacey cannibalizes sales from Lisa’s talking doll simply because “she has a new hat” This scene in itself ties into the Simpsons critique of sexism, emphasized with notions of consumerism. It also mirrors the tactics used by Mattel in the 80s.

The response to the real life talking Barbie featured backlash after one of the phrases was “math is tough”[4] One of the major critics of the doll was The American Association of University of Women.  “We are pleased that Barbie has finally been given a voice. But it is a shame that Mattel didn’t give her a more confident one”[5] It was the activists with the AAUW that caused Mattel to remove the phrase from Barbie’s voice box due to its stereotypical language. The AAUW points out that since this controversy Barbie has released other dolls encouraging women to excel in science and mathematics. This action reveals how Barbie continues to change from its early roles in domestic field. The “I Can Be Computer Engineer” doll does not discount the issues of body image and sexism controversy that surrounds Barbie and our culture views on Barbie.

Barbie is a challenging American Icon as at it’s core “In many ways, this makes Barbie a toy designed by women for women to teach women what…is expected of them by society”[6] The role Barbie plays in emphasizing expectations has been challenged in the past despite the doll’s popularity. Its longevity and continued popularity has opened doors for satire and criticism on top of intellectual discussion. This continued discussion makes the doll, cultural one of the most complicated American Icons

[7] figure 1 Screenshot from Simpsons episode








[8] Real Life talking Barbie doll

[1] Henry, Matthew “Don’t Ask me, I’m Just a Girl”: Feminism, Female Identity, and The Simpsons 7 March 2007 The Journal of Pop Culture Vol 40, issue 2

[2] Ibid.,

[3] The Toys That Made Us Documentary; Barbie, directed by Tom Stern Nacelle Productions

[4] “COMPANY NEWS: Mattel Says It Erred; Teen Talk Barbie Turns Silent on Math” The New York Times 1992 The Associated Press

[5] Hill, Catherine “From Discouraged Math Student to Computer Engineer: One Doll’s Story” 11 Dec 2013 American Association of University Women

[6] Lord M.G Forever Barbie, William Morrow and Company, INC pg 8

[7] Oakley, Bill & Weinstein Josh “Lisa vs Malibu Stacey” 17 Feb 1994 Fox Television

[8] Teen Talking Barbie image Mattel Google images

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