“Boys Can Be Anything”: Effect of Barbie Play on Girls’ Career Cognitions

Authors Aurora M. Sherman & Eileen L. Zurbriggen

"Playing with either type of Barbie reduced the number of careers that girls saw as possibilities for themselves compared to the number they perceived as possible for boys. This is one of the first experiments to look at the effect of fashion dolls on girlscareer cognitions and the results are sobering"

"Surveys indicate that 99 % of 3–10 year old girls in the U.S. have at least one Barbie doll (Rogers 1999), making Barbie a highly influential vehicle for the socialization of schemas about gender, beauty, and sexualization for young girls in the U.S."

"In this experiment, girls who played with a Barbie doll (as compared to girls who played with the control doll, Mrs. Potato Head) reported fewer careers as future possibilities for themselves than they reported were possible for boys. Moreover, this was true whether the Barbie was dressed as a fashion model or as a doctor. Playing with either type of Barbie reduced the number of careers that girls saw as possibilities for themselves compared to the number they perceived as possible for boys."

Abstract

Play with Barbie dolls is an understudied source of gendered socialization that may convey a sexualized adult world to young girls. Early exposure to sexualized images may have unintended consequences in the form of perceived limitations on future selves. We investigated perceptions of careers girls felt they could do in the future as compared to the number of careers they felt boys could do as a function of condition (playing with a Barbie or Mrs. Potato Head doll) and type of career (male dominated or female dominated) in a sample of 37 U.S. girls aged 4–7 years old residing in the Pacific Northwest. After a randomly assigned 5-min exposure to condition, children were asked how many of ten different occupations they themselves could do in the future and how many of those occupations a boy could do. Data were analyzed with a 2 × 2 × 2 mixed factorial ANOVA. Averaged across condition, girls reported that boys could do significantly more occupations than they could themselves, especially when considering male-dominated careers. In addition, girls’ ideas about careers for themselves compared to careers for boys interacted with condition, such that girls who played with Barbie indicated that they had fewer future career options than boys, whereas girls who played with Mrs. Potato Head reported a smaller difference between future possible careers for themselves as compared to boys. Results support predictions from gender socialization and objectification theories.

Link to full article here

Sherman, A.M., Zurbriggen, E.L. “Boys Can Be Anything”: Effect of Barbie Play on Girls’ Career Cognitions. Sex Roles 70, 195–208 (2014). https://doi.org/10.1007/s11199-014-0347-y