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Jacqueline Kennedy Onassis and Michelle Obama as Fashion Icons BY RAINIE AU YEUNG

When I learned about the Kennedy Assassination in high school, I read a report from a British journalist, who attended Kennedy’s funeral and claimed that “Jacqueline Kennedy has today given her country the one thing it has always lacked, and that is majesty.”[1] This statement left me with a deep first impression about this prominent first lady. Historian Michael Hogan points out that after President Kennedy was assassinated, not only did Jackie bury his body at Arlington National Cemetery, she also helped to establish the Kennedy Center for the Performing Arts in Washington D.C. and the Kennedy Library and Museum in Boston.[2] Jackie wanted the American public to remember President Kennedy as a war hero and a charming intellectual leader who demonstrated an appreciation of art. However, Jackie played a critical role to construct the public memory of President Kennedy even before he was assassinated.

During Kennedy’s presidency, Jackie had become an American icon through her fashionable appearance. Jackie’s iconic fashion reflected Americans’ obsession with the appropriate demonstration of gender. Her elegant appearance demonstrated how her gender role became an important element that made a positive influence on her husband’s collective memory. Oleg Cassini was Jackie’s costume designer and he claimed that Jackie’s clothes “could reinforce the message of her husband’s administration.” [3] In addition, her role as a wife and a mother of two children helped the public to link President Kennedy with the image of a loving husband and father.[4]  Along with the image of President Kennedy’s charming youth, Jackie’s iconic fashion style reinforced a positive public memory of President Kennedy. Jackie presented a new fashion look that combines American style with European elegance, which established an appealing American version of royalty and turned herself into a graceful American “queen”.[5] Because Jackie’s dignified fashionable appearance presented the vigorous image of the United States as a powerful modern nation, her elegant costumes emphasized the growth of American power and the prosperity during Kennedy’s presidency. Jackie played a significant role to help construct the image of President Kennedy and herself as a flawless couple and perfect family. This idealized version of American life appealed to the American public and strengthened people’s positive memory of President Kennedy.

Similar to the way that Jacqueline Kennedy became an icon of fashion, social emphasis on the wardrobe choices of former first lady Michelle Obama also shows how female icon can be associated with the expectations of gender appearance in American society. Even though they came from different backgrounds, Michelle Obama is considered the second Jacqueline Kennedy due to the comparison of their fashion choices.[6] The dressing style of both first ladies have made different impacts on the American society in their times. For instance, Jackie’s strapless gown became the popular “Jackie Look” across the country in the 1960s.[7] The “modified A-line gown of pink-and-white silk” that she wore in a White House dinner became the most eye-catching news of the event.[8] Likewise, Michelle Obama wore a “custom-made pink and gold silk dress” during her speech at the Democratic National Convention in 2012 and it became the best-selling dress of the designer.[9] Another dress, the “black dress with big red poppies” that she wore during the 50th anniversary of the 1963 march on Washington D.C., is displayed at the National Museum of African-American History and Culture.[10] These examples show how the American public obsession with the dressing choices of first ladies can turn them into fashion icons. The connections between notable female icons and the way they present themselves reflect the social expectations placed on the appropriate appearance of females.

Jacqueline Kennedy and Michelle Obama are both beloved first ladies throughout American history. Moreover, they are popular female icons that represent the American fashion style. Jacqueline Kennedy demonstrates how gender role became an element in shaping the public memory of President Kennedy. Jacqueline Kennedy and Michelle Obama rose to the status of fashion icon based on similar characteristics. The historic representations of both first ladies demonstrate a potential social expectation of gender appearance in American society.


[1] Peggy Noonan, The Time of Our Lives: Collected Writings (New York: Grand Central

Publishing, 2015), 210.

[2] Michael J. Hogan, The Afterlife of John Fitzgerald Kennedy: A Biography (Cambridge:

Cambridge University Press, 2017), 5.

[3] Ibid., 33.

[4] Ibid., 41.

[5] Ibid., 34.

[6] Scott Whitlock, “ABC Hosts Swoon Over ‘American Icon’ Michelle Obama, Compare Her to

Jackie Kennedy,” Media Research Center. November 10, 2010,  (accessed April 4, 2018).

[7]  Hogan, The Afterlife of John Fitzgerald Kennedy, 33.

[8]  Ibid., 34.

[9] Vanessa Friedman, “What Michelle Obama Wore and Why It Mattered,” New York Times,

January 14, 2017, (accessed April 4, 2018).

[10] Ibid.

Jackie and Her Pink Suit by Morgan Evans

Jacqueline Kennedy was one of the most famous first ladies the United States has ever known. One of the reasons why she has been known as such is because the Kennedys were the first presidents to be aired on national television. Jackie made a lasting impression on Americans during their time in the White House. She invited cameras into the White House for a tour, the first of its kind. She was known for her beauty, poise, and charmed leaders across the world.

For fashion, Jackie led the American culture towards a more progressive and trendsetting. Perhaps Jackie’s most iconic look during her lifetime was her “pink Chanel suit.” Although the suit looks exactly like a Chanel watermelon suit, it was American made by a high end replica designer, Chez Ninon. The designer had specifically made the suit for her in 1961 It was made of wool with a matching pillbox hat with navy blue accents. [1]

Jackie had been photographed wearing the suit more than just on the infamous date in November. At least half a dozen times she was recorded wearing the suit. It was a personal favorite for John, as he actually requested that she wear the suit in Dallas. It was the suit that she wore when John Fitzgerald Kennedy was shot. The suit is famous because she was sitting next to her husband when he was assassinated next to her.

For the duration of the day preceding the events, at Parkland Hospital, swearing in Lyndon B Johnson, and returning to the White House receiving her husband’s body, Jackie Kennedy continued to wear her pink suit with visible blood stains. At the hospital, those close to the first lady asked her to change out of the outfit but she refused and replied “oh, no… I want them to see what they have done to Jack.”[2]

Jackie never had the suit cleaned. In fact, in 1964 she sent it in a box with a note written herself that reads “Jackie’s suit and bag- worn November 22nd, 1963.” The pillbox that matched the suit was not with the rest of the outfit and its location is unknown. In 2003, Caroline, the daughter of John and Jackie, donated the suit to the people of the United States. Today, the suit remains in the National Archives collection in Maryland, where it hasn’t been seen by the public in more than 50 years and is maintained in a temperature controlled room. The suit will continue to remain unseen for generations to come, approximately 100 years since Caroline gave it to the United States’ people. The US will not release the suit to be on display to the public for this length of time for fear of popularizing the assassination itself.[3]

Now there are reproductions of the suit that can be seen every Halloween or in movies about the lives of the Kennedys. Although few people have actually seen the suit stained with blood of John F Kennedy since Jackie finally took it off, it is an iconic look that will forever be burned into the images of Americans minds on a day that lives in infamy.

[1] Randi Kaye, “50 Years Later, Jackie Kennedy’s Pink Suit Locked Away From View,” November 21, 2013, CNN,
[2] Aleksandra Andonovska, “Jackie Kennedy Wore Her Blood Spattered Pink Chanel Suit for the Rest of the Day After JFK’s Assassination,” The Vintage News, October 25, 2016,
[3] Randi Kaye, “50 Years Later, Jackie Kennedy’s Pink Suit Locked Away From View,” November 21, 2013, CNN,

Betraying Trust: JFK by Sean Gibson

These days the extramarital activities of John F. Kennedy are common knowledge to most, but back in the Sixties the president and his wife represented the perfect family. They were the American royal family in a way, an image that was further cemented by JFK’s assassination and Jackie Kennedy’s careful preservation of his image. Images of President Kennedy playing with his children in the White House and stories about about him requesting extra bedtime stories to read to his children further inspired Americans to idolize the Kennedy brand. He even had Jackie put rubber ducks in his bathroom so he could play with his son John in the bath. Images and stories like this are what drew many Americans to JFK, Americans like Caitlin Flanagan who wrote in her article in The Independent “And it was right then—with the description of the rubber ducks, and the way they evoked the closeness of father and son, the intimacy of husband and wife, and the essential nature of married life—that I got back together with John Kennedy.”2

But for as intimate and loving as the Kennedy family outwardly appeared to Americans at the time, its not the “perfect American family.” Eventually the American public learned of JFK’s myriad affairs, be it from the deposition of Judith Exner, the recollections of former White House intern Mimi Alford, or the many other women who rendezvoused with the president. The shattering illusion caused anger among some former Kennedy fans and dismissal from others as they realized their trust in the image of JFK was being attacked.  Kennedy’s betrayal is most shocking in his affair with Mimi Alford, a 19 year old intern with whom he had sex in Jackie’s bedroom and took baths in that same bathroom with the rubber ducks. Flanagan juxtaposes this affair with the Jackie Kennedy Historic Conversations tapes, stating “the details of this affair reveal that no matter what Jackie may have believed about the inviolability of her refuge—the “hermetically sealed” nature of the compartment John shared with her alone—not one inch of it was sacred to her husband. Not the bedrooms, not the bathrooms. Not even the rubber ducks.”3 This man that “evoked the intimacy of husband and wife” betrayed that intimacy by chasing after every woman that he could.

It is confusing then, that the women JFK slept with have received so much blame and abuse while the perpetrator has received mostly atta-boys. Mimi Alford was apparently hated by other women working in the White House, both because of her relationship with the President and the troubles that relationship brought to the White House staff.4 Meanwhile, Judith Exner was “pilloried by a public furious at learning that at least one wing of Camelot had more in common with the Playboy Club,” as Patt Morrison from the LA Times puts it.5 But the only person who should be blamed for wanton womanizing is the womanizer himself, not the women he took advantage of thanks to his position as President and a pop icon. Hopefully the carefully crafted image of the family man will gradually fade from the American public’s mind, and they will be able to see him  as he was: the real President Kennedy.


1.Flanagan, Caitlin. “Jackie and the Girls.” The Atlantic. February 19, 2014. Accessed April 05, 2018.
2. Ibid.

3. Ibid.

4. Sorkin, Amy Davidson. “Mimi and the President.” The New Yorker. June 19, 2017. Accessed April 05, 2018.

5. Morrison, Patt. “50 Years Later, JFK Girlfriend Judith Campbell Exner Deserves an Image Makeover.” Los Angeles Times. November 21, 2013. Accessed April 05, 2018.


Aqua’s ‘Barbie Girl’ and the meaning of Barbie


Image from Aqua’s Barbie Girl music video. (NSS Magazine)

Sitting in class earlier this week and listening to the conversation on Barbie, I was hoping to find a topic for my blog. Then someone threw out the phrase, ‘Barbie World’ and something clicked. “I’m a Barbie girl, in a Barbie world”[1] … I’d heard that line before.

The line comes from the Danish dance-pop group Aqua’s 1997 song ‘Barbie Girl.’ Though the song was voted the worst song of the 1990s by Rolling Stone magazine’s Readers Poll in 2011, the catchy tune is one I’m sure almost everyone knows.[2] I remember hearing it and singing along quite a few times growing up.

“Playfully naughty Euro-dance ditty,” is how Billboard’s Chuck Taylor described the song in August 1997.[3] Take a look at the music video, and I think that would be a good description. The song and the video are both cartoonish in a way, yet very, very sexualized.

The music video is full of pink. The female, who is supposed to be Barbie, has lots of makeup and several different outfits throughout. The band obviously does not see Barbie as some type of symbol for feminism or an innocent children’s toy. In fact, it’s quite the opposite. This was all lost on me as I grew up listening to it, but examining the lyrics now… Yikes.

You can brush my hair, undress me everywhere.

I’m a blond bimbo girl, in a fantasy world. / Dress me up, make it tight, I’m your dolly.

Make me walk, make me talk, do whatever you please. / I can act like a star, I can beg on my knees.[4]

Those are all lines sung by a female member of the band, playing the role of Barbie in the song and video. The male voice, or Ken, is even less subtle with his sexual innuendos, starting the song with the line, “Do you want to go for a ride?” which is supplemented with a wink in the video.[5] I don’t think he is asking Barbie if she wants to hop in his car. That’s made pretty obvious with the later line, “You’re my doll, rock’n’roll, feel the glamor in pink. / Kiss me here, touch me there, hanky panky.”[6]

The way Barbie is portrayed in this song reminds me of Barbie’s origins. She was a knock off from the “Bild Lilli” doll, a German doll for adult males that was essentially a “three dimensional pin-up.”[7] This song to me feels like a sarcastic take on the American Icon, highlighting all the damaging stereotypes Barbie portrays.

One of the most interesting parts of this song is that Mattel originally sued the band for copyright infringement.[8] The makers of the children’s toy were not so happy that their product name was being associated in this sexual manner. The case went all the way to the Supreme Court. It was ruled that the song was parody and therefore did not violate any copyright laws.

The reason I may remember having heard it so much growing up is that Mattell actually used the song in one of its marketing campaigns in 2009.[9] Though the lyrics were certainly altered a bit, the hook remained the same: “I’m a Barbie girl, in the Barbie world / Life in plastic, it’s fantastic.” I can understand the idea of having a catchy song associated with your product, but that just screams all kinds of weird. I think the saga of the ‘Barbie Girl’ song fits right into some of the other interesting chapters of Barbie’s “playfully naughty” history.

[1] Aqua. “Barbie Girl.” Released May 1997. In Universal, MCA.

[2] “Readers Poll: The Worst Songs of the Nineties.” Rolling Stone. August 31, 2011. Accessed March 29, 2018.

[3] Taylor, Chuck. “Danish breakout group Aqua toys with U.S. pop success with its ‘Barbie Girl.'(Air Waves)(Column).” Billboard, 30 Aug. 1997, p. 92+. Academic OneFile, Accessed 29 Mar. 2018.

[4] Aqua. “Barbie Girl.”

[5] Ibid.

[6] Ibid.

[7] Lord, M. G. Forever Barbie: The Unauthorized Biography of a Real Doll. Fredericton, N.B.: Goose Lane Editions, 2004.

[8] Elliott, Stuart. “Years Later, Mattel Embraces ‘Barbie Girl’.” The New York Times. August 26, 2009. Accessed March 29, 2018.

[9] Elliott, Stuart.


Barbie Girls Living in a Barbie World by Alyssa Deguzman

Image result for barbie real life

According to Mirror Mirror: Eating Disorder Help, if Barbie was a real woman, she would be 5’9” and weigh 120 pounds[1]. Her body fat percentage would be so low that she would not be able to menstruate.[2] So, if we allow children to play with such dolls, are we supplying them with unnecessary ideals of the female body?

Image result for barbie cheerleader

Many Barbie dolls take on the average character of the happy cheerleader or shopping Barbie as seen above. In M.G. Lorde’s Forever Barbie, “For every fluffy blond cheerleader who leaps breast forwards into an exaggerated gender rule, there is a recovering bulimic who refers to wear dresses and blames Barbie for her ordeal.” [3]In a way, Barbie has set up these gender roles and standards for women of all ages. Women feel the need to be skinny based on the standards that society and the media lays out for them. I also feel that, Barbie has enforced this idea that pink is only a girls color, as seen in her many outfits and in your local Barbie toy aisle. So, it is extremely frowned for any boy to like the color pink, because it would automatically make him ‘girly.’

Image result for barbie shopping

In one study, girls who played with Barbie reported lower body image and a greater desire to be thinner than girls who played with other toys. It all come down to the question if Barbie is teaching children that to be liked, you have to be thin, white and blonde.[4] Personally, I never felt the need to look this way, but I did feel inferior to people who were white and have blonde hair. The reason for this was because I didn’t look like the popular toy that other girls played with, so I had no representation out there that showed the color of my  skin had beauty in it too. I am glad now that Mattel is introducing dolls that have different body types and skin tones, but is this representation of diversity better late than never?

There are perhaps hundreds and thousands of girls and even women that dream of looking like Barbie. Of those those thousands, there are probably hundreds of females that have tried. In the video above, this is just one of the many cases where women have undergone many surgeries in order to look like the famous doll. She event states that people have called her plastic and fake, but she doesn’t care what they think as they are all just “jealous.” She has also set up a savings account of $20,000 for her daughter in case she wants plastic surgery as well. I am not for or against plastic surgery, as I feel that if you are not satisfied with the way you look, you have every right to change it. However, when it comes to looking like a plastic doll, I am not sure where the line



[1] “Barbie and Body Image,” Mirror Mirror Eating Disorder Help, last modified 2016, accessed March 29, 2018

[2] Ibid.

[3]  Lord, M. G. Forever Barbie: The Unauthorized Biography of a Real Doll. Fredericton, N.B.: Goose Lane Editions, 2004. 14.

[4] “Barbie and Body Image,” Mirror Mirror Eating Disorder Help, last modified 2016, accessed March 29, 2018

Antithesis to Barbie: Toys for Little Homemakers



Chloe Kim as a Barbie doll

Just last month, Chloe Kim became the youngest gold medal winner in Olympic women’s snowboarding history at 17 years old. She won first place in the women’s halfpipe event and brought the gold medal from PyeongChang home to the United States.  This achievement was apparently significant enough to raise her status to Barbie-worthy. Kim is now featured as part of the Role Models line of Barbie dolls, alongside other female professionals like conservationist Bindi Irwin, model and body activist Ashley Graham, and historic aviator Amelia Earhart.[1] In bold pink letters on the Role Models page at, one can read the statement “Imagining she can be anything is just the beginning. Actually seeing that she can makes all the difference.” The idea that Barbie can show young girls all they can possibly become is nothing new. Barbie has always set out to teach girls “independence” and “all that [they] could be.”[2] It was a major point for Mattel that the Barbie doll did not “teach [girls] to nurture”[3] or do housework, but rather to pursue careers outside the home and become strong women. But why was there a need or want for a toy to teach children this lesson? Well, that’s because many other toys girls were playing with were painting a much different picture of women’s place in society.

Sears ad, 1965.

Many a childhood, especially those of the female population, included toys like kitchenware, vacuums, baby dolls and the like. I, for one, played house many times in my day. For nearly a century, toys that simulate or depict domestic chores and housekeeping items, the “rough housework”[4] Barbie didn’t do, have been marketed to American girls. For example, an article by Elizabeth Sweet, a sociologist, wrote an article for The Atlantic that highlights Sears ads from 1925 and 1965 that market domestic tools like brooms and sewing machines and cookware, claiming, “Every little girl likes to play house, to sweep, and to do mother’s work for her.”[5] These types of toys worked to make a young girl into a “little homemaker”[6] rather than “to inspire the limitless potential in every girl” as Mattel claims to do with Barbie.[7]

Betsy Wetsy by Ideal,

Similar to the way toys that simulate housework convey the expectation that women are intended for taking care of the home, babydolls portray the expectation of a woman as also taking care of children. Take the Betsy Wetsy doll by Ideal that M. G. Lord refers to as “clinging, dependent.”[8] One television commercial for Betsy Wetsy opens with a little girl thinking to herself, “When I grow up, I want to be a mommy.” Luckily for her, she “can play mommy right now, with Ideal’s Betsy Wetsy.”[9] This advertisement clearly states that the ideal life a little girl should imagine for herself is that of a mother. With countless other babydolls filling toy store shelves, Betsy Wetsy was only a small piece of this expectation-setting. With the way domestic toys and babydolls portrayed the capabilities and goals of women, it is easy to see where Barbie could swoop in and be the more ambitious alternative.

I certainly fell into the idea of “girls’ toys” and “boys’ toys” growing up. But growing up with a little sister meant pulling my weight in the playhouse and leaving time for the Power Rangers and Polly Pocket to have a picnic after saving the world. It is only now at 21 years old that I have really tried to understand what some of our toys could represent or teach us. Looking at toy vacuums and babydolls as potentially at odds with Barbie dolls instead of all under the umbrella of “girls’ toys” is a new critical lens that I don’t think I could now ignore if I tried. For what it’s worth, my sister, who played with all of these types of toys, is now an aspiring artist that cooks and cleans for herself and does not dote on any freeloading men.

[1] (also follow this link for first Barbie Role Models image)

[2] M. G. Lord, Forever Barbie: The Unauthorized Biography of a Real Doll (Fredericton, N.B.: Goose Lane Editions, 2004), 9.

[3] Ibid., 9.

[4] Ibid., 10.

[5] Sweet, Elizabeth. “Toys Are More Divided by Gender Now Than They Were 50 Years Ago.” The Atlantic. December 09, 2014. Accessed March 29, 2018. (also see this source for first Sears ad, 1925)

[6] Ibid.


[8] M. G. Lord, Forever Barbie: The Unauthorized Biography of a Real Doll (Fredericton, N.B.: Goose Lane Editions, 2004), 9.



In the Dollhouse: Subversive Barbie (and Gay Ken) by Morgan O’Donnell

Barbie is perhaps the most complex and most discussed children’s toy in American history. The doll’s social and cultural symbolism has been endlessly picked apart since Mattel first introduced Barbie in 1959. Pearson and Mullins write that Mattel has tried to “structure the meaning of Barbie in very distinct ways which reproduce particular versions of domesticity” [1] through her careers and housework, clothing, and accessories in various reproductions of the doll throughout history.

Her relationship status also plays into the image of domesticity she presents. Barbie was originally a young, single professional until Mattel gave into intense consumer demand and created Ken in 1961 as a “subservient male doll” with the sole purpose of being Barbie’s escort [2]. Throughout the Sixties Ken’s wardrobe, career options, and overall role in the Barbie world expanded; simultaneously, Barbie’s domesticity increased and she was placed in more subordinate labor positions while Ken’s activities displayed his influence over and masculine independence from Barbie [3].

In my mind I relate the gender dynamics in Barbie and Ken’s relationship, as analyzed by Pearson and Mullins, to the (utterly disgusting and sexist) phrase “a woman’s place is in the home/kitchen.” One clear function of Barbie is the message she conveys about how society views women, and based on her track record, one could say that a dominant message is that women should beautify themselves, take care of housework, and do other forms of labor in service to men. Photographer Dina Goldstein presented a subversive take on Barbie and Ken’s picture perfect home life with her 2012 photographic series In the Dollhouse

Goldstein employed two actors to portray incredibly doll-like, life-sized versions of Barbie and Ken. The story takes place within the pink walls of the couple’s dollhouse and follows them as Ken, “who has been trapped in an imposed marriage for over three decades,” [4] discovers his gay sexuality, while Barbie’s gradual insecurity over it turns into a mental breakdown that ends with her cutting off all her hair in a last-ditch effort to be what he wants.

In an interview for The Huffington Post in 2013, Goldstein said that she drew inspiration for the project from observing her two daughters role-play with the dolls. She personally sees Barbie as representative of “the concept that Beauty is Power and necessary to attain happiness” and to attract a partner. But when Ken expresses his individuality as a gay man, the value of beauty is stripped away and nothing Barbie is or does can make him stay. [5] I find In the Dollhouse to be a genius subversion of Barbie’s symbolism. Not only does it toy with the longtime allusion to her beloved boyfriend being gay (Earring Magic Ken, anyone?), but it is also a play on the concepts of domesticity and nurturing that have been such a central part of the Barbie myth — and the female myth.

Traditional gender roles place pressure on women to be the ideal homemakers and girlfriends or wives for the sake of the men’s satisfaction and benefit. In Goldstein’s photo series, Barbie does everything right, from keeping up an outer appearance of beauty to cooking dinner for Ken, only to fail and lose him…in the end she is left with nothing but an empty facade of the life she thought she knew, the life she spent trying to satisfy Ken.

To me, this ties in well with the correlation between the Ken doll’s growing roles and Barbie’s limiting roles during the Sixties. With Mattel’s introduction of Ken and his soaring popularity over the years, Barbie, who was once the star of her own show, was reduced to the nurturing, submissive girlfriend in certain scenarios and iterations.

Women bear the physical and emotional labor of creating and maintaining a perfect world in the home and in their relationships, and Goldstein’s Barbie photo series goes where Mattel won’t dare to: it shows the foolish nature of these expectations and the reality that is waiting to be exposed.

  1. Pearson, Marlys, and Paul R. Mullins. “Domesticating Barbie: An Archaeology of Barbie Material Culture and Domestic Ideology.” 228-29. International Journal of Historical Archaeology 3, no. 4 (December 1999).
  2. Ibid, 236.
  3. Ibid, 240.
  4. “In The Dollhouse.” Dina Goldstein.
  5. Rudolph, Christopher. “Dina Goldstein, Photographer, Shares ‘In The Dollhouse,’ Barbie Discovering Ken’s Gay Affair (PHOTOS).” The Huffington Post. May 16, 2013.

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

Barbie, Feminism, and the Changing Gender Identity by Emily Grimaldi

I first saw this advertisement in my Mosaics II class as we were reading Mary Wollstonecraft’s Vindication of the Rights of Woman. My first thought was about how these little girls were inspired by Barbie to become what they want to be. However, after a lengthy discussion with my classmates and several more times viewing the ad, I found it to be beyond problematic.

First of all, the reactions of the adults in the video are extremely troubling. Everyone is laughing at these little girls. Sure it is cute and a little bit silly, but they are completely discrediting the possibility that these girls are extremely intelligent and can lecture about the brain or can lead a tour about dinosaurs.

Assuming that the dialogue of the girls was scripted and the reactions of the adults were genuine, I find another flaw in the ad. These little girls say some of the most ridiculous, off the wall, and unintelligent lines. In the scene where the girl is a veterinarian she says something about her cat being able to fly. That is completely damaging to everything Barbie claims to stand for. How can this girl be taken seriously if she is portrayed as being unintelligent and incapable of performing her job?

As far as my critique of what is shown in the ad, I have one last problem to address. At the end of the ad, the girl is still playing with her Barbie dolls. This strikes me as problematic because it is as if she was just playing pretend the whole time she was pursuing her dreams. It’s as if she will always be pretending. It would have been way more effective to show women in the careers depicted as well instead of just making the thought of being a soccer coach or a professor seem like a pipe dream.

Today we are living in a world where gender identities are fluid. This advertisement completely ignores that notion. Sure, we are living in a time where Barbie is seen as a sign of empowerment for females, but in a society with non-binary genders it is important to recognize that anyone can feel empowered by Barbie. There is even DNA evidence to prove that more than two genders exist. [1] And of course I cannot forget to mention that Barbie in the ad and historically speaking has features that are humanly unattainable. [2] The girls in the ad are only playing with thin, traditionally shaped Barbies (though there is an African American one in the mix). The current advertising style and feminist ideals of Barbie are quite antiquated and unrepresentative of the population she currently inspires.

I find the most disturbing thing about this image is the surgeon Barbie wearing a skirt. Why is a career Barbie not dressed for her career? Why is she sticking to the origins of the Barbie and not progressing?

[1] Lord, M. G. Forever Barbie: The Unauthorized Biography of a Real Doll. Fredericton, N.B.: Goose Lane Editions, 2004. 14.

[2] Ibid.

American Gothic III by Connor O’Rourke

Gordon Parks made a huge statement with his photograph of Ella Watson, naming it American Gothic. A clear critique of the state of the country in 1942, Parks attempted to capture a screenshot of life in Washington, D.C. Parks claimed to experience bigotry unlike anything he had witnessed before while working in that city and felt very passionately about the issue.[1] Ironically, Parks was commissioned to work for the Farm Security Administration when he took this picture with the goal of bringing attention to the poverty among white farmers in the Midwest and West.[2] This photo that Parks took has the same effect that the administration was hoping for, just with a different demographic in the spotlight. Parks highlights the struggle of black citizens during this time. Ella Watson is portrayed as hard working, but her expression and the set-up of the picture speaks volumes about the situation she is in.


Photography can be an immensely moving platform for fighting for a cause, and a modern-day example, very similar to Parks’ work is shown in Colin Kaepernick’s photo-shoot with GQ for winning “Man of the Year”. Colin Kaepernick is famous for fighting for equal rights through his popularity as a quarterback in the NFL. A huge supporter of Black Lives Matter, Kaepernick drew national attention as he silently protested by kneeling during the national anthem before his games. He was shown massive support from teammates and other players around the league, but was heavily criticized by many white Americans, being told to stay in his place and shut up and play football.

People called him a hypocrite for protesting for equal rights when he was making millions of dollars a year, but the GQ photo-shoot speaks volumes for Kaepernick’s cause. He is shown in Harlem, among the people that he was fighting so heavily for.[3] Just like American Gothic by Parks, the photo shows Kaepernick and the people of Harlem in “natural” settings that are meant to portray their lives and their situations. This photo-shoot was meant to highlight Kaepernick and his cause, but I feel that it also does a very good job of bringing attention to people in bad situations who need help, similar to the goal of the Farm Security Administration. If Grant Wood’s painting was the first American Gothic, and Parks’ photo was the second American Gothic, I think that these photos of Kaepernick can be considered the third installment of the American Gothic series.

[1] “American Gothic, Washington, D.C., 1942,” Arts MIA.

[2] “Farm Security Administration,” Wikipedia.

[3] Martin Schoeller, “Colin Kaepernick Will Not Be Silenced,” GQ. November 13, 2017.