A look at how women were stereotyped in the early 20th century, some of these observations are still (if not more) relevant today
Barbie Doll by Marge Piercy
This girlchild was born as usual
and presented dolls that did pee-pee
and miniature GE stoves and irons
and wee lipsticks the color of cherry candy.
Then in the magic of puberty, a classmate said:
You have a great big nose and fat legs.
She was healthy, tested intelligent,
possessed strong arms and back,
abundant sexual drive and manual dexterity.
She went to and fro apologizing.
Everyone saw a fat nose on thick legs.
She was advised to play coy,
exhorted to come on hearty,
exercise, diet, smile and wheedle.
Her good nature wore out
like a fan belt.
So she cut off her nose and her legs
and offered them up.
In the casket displayed on satin she lay
with the undertaker’s cosmetics painted on,
a turned-up putty nose,
dressed in a pink and white nightie.
Doesn’t she look pretty? everyone said.
Consummation at last.
To every woman a happy ending.
When one thinks of a Barbie doll the first image that comes to mind is blonde hair, blue eyes long slender legs a flat stomach and perfect butt, with luscious lips and big round eyes. Basically perfect. In the 1950’s men in the army use to refer to woman like Marilyn Monroe, who is still today known for her sexual appeal, as a “ Blond Bombshell” It was Hugh Heffner who first introduced the world to busty blondes in his magazines. A women’s sex appeal and attractive was thus coupled with her outer appearance and not necessarily her personality. From there on out society’s view of what is attractive just excelled into what we have today; bulimic models and celebrities who constantly alter their physical appearances with Botox and plastic surgery.
The poem’s title is Barbie Doll, so our first thought of the girl in the poem, is of a tiny slender girl with blue eyes and blond hair who wears pink frills. This is the view imprint on our beliefs. From the first lines in the poem this girl is forced to abide by societies expectations of what woman should be. She plays with “dolls that did pee pee” and “GE stoves and irons” this remind me of the saying that “men prefer their woman bare foot and pregnant in front of the stove” This is a common societal expectation that woman are there to bear children and take care of their husbands. The girl is also given make-up to play with. Make-up is generally believed to make woman more attractive to the opposite sex. It also enhances a woman’s sex appeal. Olivia St Claire said in her book “203 ways to drive a man wild in bed” that a women’s moist lips reminds men of the female sex organ, thus wearing lipstick would make one more desirable to men. The young girl in the poem is thus taught, what is expected of her from society. Butt during puberty she realises that if she does not look the way society wants her to look. She is teased at school for not being perfect in the eyes of society.
The use of the world girl child is of great significance in the poem. Girls and boys are brought up differently. Studies have shown that fathers play more roughly with boys and that mothers talk more with their daughters than with their sons. In fairy tales the male characters are always strong, whereas the female characters are always beautiful “ who is the fairest of them all” No wonder our magazines and adverts are filled with size zero models parading with half naked bodies. Furthermore women are often primarily seen as objects, as media activist Jean Killbourne observed, “woman’s bodies are often dismembered into legs, breasts or thighs reinforcing the message that woman are objects instead of whole beings”. Women are taught how to act in the presence of the opposite sex in order to be more attractive, which is illustrated in the poem by words like “coy” “hearty” and “wheedle”. The girl is told to be these things, even though it might not form part of her character to tell people only what they want to hear, and acting in a way to please others instead of being you.
The image of the fan belt is an illustration that this girl might be a “tomboy” in other words not the girly girl that society expects her to be. She is interested in things that boys do like constructing things and participating in physical sports. As a fan belt is a rubber belt in a car to keep the engine cool. The fact that her fan belt wore out also shows that she was no longer able to keep up appearances and act the way society wanted her to act. Therefore she “cut of her nose and her legs”
The repeated use of ‘fat nose’ and ‘thick thighs’ shows us that this imperfect physical feature was referred to continuously to the extend that she thought it would be better to die than to live with imperfections. She feels that the amount of emotional pain inflicted on her for not being ‘perfect’ is so damaging that she would rather take her own life in order to be perfect. Therefore the word consummation is used in the poem as the Oxford dictionary defines the word as ‘the fact of making sth complete or perfect’ Therefore she feels that only by cutting off the offending parts of her body, will she be perfect. She ‘offered’ or gave up what she loved – her nose and legs to society in order to be perfect.
This brings us to the use of “happy ending” in the last line. As stated earlier, in fairytales woman are usually pretty, fair and beautiful. Children are instilled from an early age that boys should play outside to make them strong and boy must not show their emotions and if they do they are said to not “be such a girl” men must be the bread winners in their homes. Girls on the other hand are kept inside their homes and taught how to cook clean and look after children. This is especially taught to them through fairy tales. Thus by using the term “happy ending” it again brings to our attention the rules that society has set for this girl. Often woman in fairy tales are at their most beautiful when they are quietly resting like Sleeping Beauty and Snow White. Note the similarities between the girl in our poem and Snow White. Only when Snow White is lying in her glass casket does the Prince come to free her from the witch’s poison. Here we can say that the witch’s poison represents society and the Prince represents the afterlife. Thus only through death can the girl be freed and live happily and perfectly ever after… THE END
(this has to be cited if copied or quoted as it would be plagiarism if used without referencing the source as it is my own work.)