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Hyper-Femininity Can Be Subversive and Empowering – Simply Ask Barbie

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Hyper-femininity can be subversive and empowering – just ask Barbie

By Daisy McManaman

I discovered Barbie once more throughout 2020’s COVID lockdown. Indoors, confined to Juicy Couture tracksuits, I used to be lacking excuses to precise my hyper-femininity by way of clothes, as I had executed pre-pandemic. Accumulating Barbie dolls grew to become a solution to show my love of femininity in all it’s enjoyable, ridiculous and pink-saturated prospects.

My shelf of Barbies – from Western Winking Barbie (1981) to Enchanted Night Barbie (1995) – is now my favorite a part of my dwelling. However for a lot of, her rediscovery will come by way of Greta Gerwig’s upcoming film, Barbie – the doll’s first stay motion movie, starring Margot Robbie.

 As an artist and a researcher of expressions of femininity, Barbie is a continuing supply of inspiration to me. The doll is a conduit for cultural concepts surrounding femininity and the limitless methods it may be performed with.

“Hyper-femininity” describes femininity at its most excessive, on the far finish of the spectrum of various gender expressions. Modern expressions of hyper-femininity are sometimes meant to subvert points of hegemonic femininity (expressions of femininity that reinforce conventional gender roles). These variations of hyper-femininity reclaim points of patriarchal, conventional femininity and play with, carry out and parody it.

perform and parody it.

First created by Mattel co-founder Ruth Handler in 1959, Barbie is a popular culture icon. For youngsters, Barbie has been a beloved good friend. For artists together with Andy Warhol, a muse. And – relying on who you ask – both an ally or enemy of the feminist trigger.

It’s Barbie’s hyper-femininity – along with her shiny blonde hair, excellent make-up and excessively pink wardobe – that usually causes these huge variations in opinion.

Barbie’s sophisticated feminism

In her guide, Without end Barbie: The Unauthorised Biography of a Actual Doll, creator M.G. Lord describes Barbie as an advanced and contradictory pop-culture determine. Lord sees Barbie as a “reflection of American in style cultural values and notions about femininity”. Over its 64-year historical past, the doll’s evolution has mirrored the usually contradictory calls for and beliefs positioned on ladies.

Some feminists argue that Barbie’s hyper-femininity isn’t self conscious in the best way that, for instance, the hyper-femininity of drag queens is. As a substitute, they are saying, Barbie displays a extra hegemonic femininity, along with her idealised and inconceivable female physique criticised as perpetuating dangerous feminine magnificence requirements.

Even Barbie’s “curvier” builds have been known as out for failing to measure as much as the “common” lady’s physique. When scaled up, “curvy” Barbie would actually be a UK measurement eight.

And the issues don’t finish with Barbie’s physique. In 1992, the speaking Teen Speak Barbie was criticised for utilizing phrases corresponding to “Math class is hard”, echoing gender stereotypes.

echoing gender stereotypes.

Nevertheless, Barbie can also be able to subverting hegemonic femininity. Barbie has been marketed as an single profession woman since her inception, throughout an period the place ladies have been severely underrepresented within the workforce.

Together with her first few careers together with dressmaker (1960), nurse (1961) and astronaut (1965), Barbie stood as a task mannequin to women who confirmed there have been choices for his or her future past homemaking.

Now, Barbie has had over 200 official careers. Typically decked out in her signature pink, the doll has confirmed generations that they don’t have to sacrifice their love of femininity with a view to succeed. She has additionally modified her look over time, with Barbie showing as totally different races and physique sorts. In April, Mattel launched a Barbie doll with Down’s syndrome.

Rebranding Barbie

In 1997, Mattel launched a lawsuit in opposition to Danish-Norwegian pop group, Aqua. The corporate alleged that the band’s music Barbie Woman, launched the identical 12 months, infringed upon Mattel’s trademark and imposed an grownup picture onto Barbie.

The music featured lyrics corresponding to “I’m a blonde bimbo woman in a fantasy world”. “Bimbo” is a derogatory phrase for hyper-feminine ladies who’re perceived as being unintelligent. In 2002, a California federal appeals courtroom dropped Mattel’s lawsuit.

Quick ahead 20 years and the soundtrack to the Barbie film encompasses a music by rappers Ice Spice and Nicki Minaj entitled Barbie World, which samples Aqua’s Barbie Woman. With lyrics corresponding to “I’m a Barbie woman, pink Barbie Dreamhouse/The best way Ken be killin’ shit bought me yellin’ out just like the Scream Home”, the pair place Barbie-branded hyper-femininity as a supply of sexual empowerment.

The inclusion of the Aqua pattern within the Mattel-approved movie marks a shift – the model is now leaning into the music. Maybe this additional signifies a transition from resisting Barbie’s bimbo status to embracing it.

This displays a wider vindication of the bimbo determine lately. Posts to social media platform TikTok reclaiming the time period are proving wildly in style, with one self-professed bimbo influencer boasting 4.6 million followers.

boasting 4.6 million followers

Hyper-feminine identities have been belittled inside some feminist writing (corresponding to Ariel Levy’s Feminine Chauvinist Pigs in 2005), as a result of they’ve been interpreted as a submission to the male gaze and patriarchal oppression. However this current bimbo renaissance has highlighted how embracing hyper-femininity can, for some, be subversive, joyful and empowering.

Within the trailers for the upcoming Barbie film, Barbie Land is a matriarchal society the place hyper-femininity is an indication of energy. In a single trailed scene, Barbie (Margot Robbie) explains: “Mainly every little thing that males do in your world, ladies do in ours.

Now in her film star period, Barbie is unashamedly embracing her hyper-feminine gender expression and its subversive and playful prospects. To echo Barbie’s 1985 promoting slogan: “We dolls can do something.”

This text was initially revealed in The Dialog on 20 July 2023. It may be accessed right here: https://theconversation.com/hyper-femininity-can-be-subversive-and-empowering-just-ask-barbie-209623

In regards to the Writer

Daisy McManamanDaisy McManaman – an interdisciplinary artist and researcher primarily based in Glasgow, Scotland. Her analysis pursuits revolve round representations and expressions of femininity. Daisy is a PhD candidate at College of York’s Centre for Ladies’s Research, the place her thesis undertaking reanalyses representations of ladies in Playboy by way of an intersectional feminist lens, in search of out moments of sophisticated empowerment with the purpose to shift the lens from Hugh Hefner and onto the ladies who produced, consumed and featured in Playboy content material.

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