Why Barbie Needs the Girl Scouts

Barbie’s not interested in the cookies.

Consumer groups have recently criticized the national Girl Scout organization for its partnership with Mattel.  Launched in August 2013, the “Be Anything, Do Everything” program uses the Barbie theme to explore various career options.

The controversial Barbie patch.

The controversial Barbie patch.

Aimed at Daisies, Brownies, and Juniors, the program consists of a booklet, computer game,  pink patch for the back of the vest or sash, and three Barbie dolls wearing Girl Scout “uniforms.” Barbie wears a pinkified Junior (4th and 5th grader) uniform, hardly age appropriate for an astronaut, architect, or even a teen age Girl Scout.

My first reaction was “Ewwwww.” My second was “why”?

What do Mattel and GSUSA get out of the deal?

Why did GSUSA partner with Barbie?

The official answer links to career exploration and Barbie’s impressive resume.  According to GSUSA CEO Anna-Maria Chávez:

This partnership will allow Girl Scouts to offer an engaging and interactive new leadership experience, one that leverages the appeal of Barbie in order to encourage girls to explore exciting new career possibilities. We are tying the fun girls have playing with Barbie to an opportunity to gain insight into the careers of today and tomorrow, with patches and discovery along the way. Like Girl Scouts, Barbie is an American icon; together, we are teaching girls that their futures are wide open with possibilities, and that they can accomplish anything they set their sights on in their careers.

What does GSUSA get from Mattel?

It is a three-year, $2 million deal.

This is hardly the first time GSUSA has licensed a line of dolls. There have been official dolls for decades.  The Groovy Girls became Girl Scouts in 2007 and Adora dolls are in every council shop today. American Girl dolls could buy Junior Girl Scout uniforms in the late 1990s. A new set of dolls, the Girl Scout Friendship Collection, debuted yesterday at the GS National Convention in Salt Lake City.

 

What is different about the Barbie deal is the curriculum and patch. Critics, led by Susan Linn of the Campaign for a Commercial-Free Childhood, say the patch transforms girls “into walking advertisements.”  Yet various councils already offer patches created with corporate grants.

 

What Does Mattel Get?

Mattel gains a strategic partnership with an iconic brand linked to wholesome goodness and little girls.  More important, Mattel creates new ties to an age group that often has moved beyond Barbie.

Yesterday, October 16, Mattel announced that Barbie sales had plunged 21% in the 3rd quarter of the year, following drops of 14% or more in the 1st and 2nd quarters of 2014.  The Wall Street Journal reported that “Barbie is in a slump so bad that she’s getting pushed around by no-name newcomers,” such as Walmart’s Funville Sparkle Girlz.

Recent studies show that between the ages of 7 and 11 (Brownies and Juniors), many girls reject Barbies as “babyish” and move on to trendier toys, such as Monster High and tablets.

What Do the Girls Think?

While other adults debate the merits and value of Barbies, I think a girl-led approach would be to encourage younger Girl Scouts to apply their critical thinking skills to Barbie.

Girls can earn the Be A Doll patch.

Girls can earn the Be A Doll patch.

I’ve created a “Be a Doll” patch program that explores how dolls reflect culture,  asks girls  to evaluate Barbie as a role model, and looks at the range of careers related to the fashion industry beyond just model or designer. Activities span a wide age range and include:

  • Sharing favorite dolls
  • Comparing dolls now with our mothers’ and grandmothers’ toys
  • Comparing uniforms on other Girl Scout dolls
  • Putting on a fashion show of old uniforms or “What Not to Wear to Middle School”
  • Body image and eating disorders
  • Interviewing real women to see if they could perform their jobs dressed as a career Barbie.

Barbie needs the Girls Scouts.

When it’s time to renew the deal with Mattel, GSUSA should ask for more than $2 million and insist that Mattel give Barbie a tent—and a Gold Award.

 

©2014 Ann Robertson

Barbie is a registered trademark of Mattel, which is not connected to this patch program in any way.

Doll Exhibit at GSCNC Main Office

There’s still time left to check out the Girl Scout doll exhibit in the GSCNC lobby!!Image

Dolls dressed in Girl Scout uniforms have been popular toys and sought-after collectibles for nearly a century.  The earliest known Girl Scout doll dates to 1917, and “generations” of rag dolls, paper dolls, Cabbage Patch Kids, Barbies, and Groovy Girls have all worn uniforms that match their owner’s official brown, blue, or green dress.

Among the items on display are a homemade 1930s-style Mariner (poor dear, she’s lost a shoe and a sock), an Effanbee doll in a 1962 Senior Roundup outfit, Barbies in adult uniforms made from patterns sold through the catalog in the late 1990s, and paper dolls from the early 1950s with “real” hair.Image

For quick backgrounds, we used fabrics from the Robert Kaufman Girl Scout collections of 2009–2010.  Image

For President Obama’s Inauguration on January 20, we will change our display to focus on the First Ladies and their role in Girl Scouting.

Please stop by GSCNC and see what’s new from the archives!