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Feminism and Cultural Identity Essay

Barbie, a worldwide viral doll known for her interest in adult-fashioned roles, indirectly constitutes the way American girls should grow up to be. With the creation of this doll came the thirst and need to sell it. Therefore, just one version of the Barbie doll is not sufficient. Mattel Inc., famous for its numerous toy creations yet infamous for its many controversies, has made Barbie’s boyfriend, sister, cousin and even her dog. Consequently, Mattel created Barbie collectibles that included the “Barbie Dolls of the World”. In this collection, the creation “the notorious PR Barbie” as Frances Negrón-Muntaner states in Barbie’s Hair: Selling Out Puerto Rican Identity in the Global Market, has developed confusion, furiousness and also indifference in the Puerto Rican society.

In Sandra Cisneros’ essay, Barbie Q, Barbie’s values are as she physically is, merely plastic. She is a “mean-eyed” fashionista boyfriend stealer with emphasis on the stealing part. Barbie has made society assume that girls and women’s interests are only based on their looks and men. At the same time, girls around the world are getting brainwashed into thinking that is what they were made to do and how they are meant to be. Because Barbie dolls are used by young girls who may be in the process finding who they are, these girls may grow up with these sexist values in their lives. With this being said, young girls are offered a very superficial way of life, the life of a Barbie, which may be pretty and cute from the outside but it’s a very fake one. With this, society has created a twisted way of how a girl or woman should be like. On this essay’s last paragraphs describes where the protagonists dolls come from; a flea market.

The doll she had probably was damaged by a fire, but as she describes the damages it shows that in a way the child accepts not only the doll’s flaws, but her own. With this, she will not let society define perfection. And the search for perfection will be her own, not what society has taught. Another essay that embarks the same issue with Barbie dolls is the previously mentioned by Frances Negrón-Muntaner. In this essay, Negrón, states that when Mattel brought the new Boricua personage to the “Barbie Dolls of the World” collection, Puerto Rican people from both the island and migrants in the United States had distinct yet connected opinions of the doll. Island intellectuals criticized the doll’s Americanized ideal of what a Puerto Rican should be and is like, this being a wavy-haired mulatta. Still, Puerto Ricans living on the island bought the doll and made it one of the most sold.

On the other hand, Islanders now living in the United States considered the doll “straight-haired and white”. The Puerto Rican Barbie offers young girls a misconception of what a Puerto Rican really is. The Puerto Rican Barbie was conceived almost in the 21st century with the mannerisms of a 19th century jíbara (a country-side woman). The idea behind “Barbie Dolls of the World” was that American girls learned about different cultures in the world. Since Barbie’s are sold worldwide, there is an issue that is developed instantly. The American corporation Mattel has a big dilemma: making sure that the conception of the dolls is loyal to the culture it corresponds, an issue that they did not pay attention with proximity for the Puerto Rican Barbie doll.

Thanks to this doll, people from around the world perceive Puerto Rican identity as country mulatto men and women. When in reality, Puerto Rico’s race is a mix of African, Spanish and Taíno (natives): “The lingering impression that the Puerto Rican Barbie was essentially white and that its “mulattoness” was a cultural masquerade was reinforced by the box’s ethnic “origin” story for Puerto Ricans: ‘My country was discovered in 1493 by Christopher Columbus who claimed it for Spain.’

In only mentioning that the island was discovered by Columbus, Mattel and its allies connote that all Puerto Ricans are fundamentally Europeans and banish the influence of Natives and Africans to the back of the bus.” The doll’s box, to a certain point, limits the explanation of the Puerto Rican race and the consumer to his or her understanding and knowledge of the Puerto Rican culture, or any culture for that matter. The owner of the Barbie doll, or society passes to believe what the box primarily says.

Usually, stereotypes are a general knowledge of a country or a culture. This not being the case on the Puerto Rican conception of the Barbie doll, she is put as an olive skinned, jíbara with a bomba dress, that in reality looks like a European dress with encaje (lace). If the doll was a jíbara (low class countryside woman) with a bomba dress, why did it have lace when it is a sign of a high-class European wardrobe? “The doll’s main concern is for you to ‘like the special white dress I am wearing. It is very typical of a dress I might wear to a festival of a party.’” states Frances Negrón-Muntaner. The Puerto Rican doll is a complete stereotype of what a Puerto Rican is. If the box said that the doll is wearing a traditional outfit, or explained how our culture developed, it would be a different story. Nevertheless, the doll is put in a 19th century context when it was almost created within the new millennium.

Clearly, Puerto Ricans must have passed through modernization or what Puerto Rican intellectuals call “Americanization”. Also, the doll’s features are the ones of a mulatto, when Puerto Ricans have a mixture of African, Taíno and Spanish. Puerto Rican’s ethnic background is omitted with this doll. However, the most controversial issue with this doll wasn’t its skin color or its “fiesta” wardrobe, it was its hair, as the essay’s title says: “Barbie’s Hair”. Frances Negrón-Muntaner shows various Puerto Rican opinions on the doll’s hair but the most outrageous states as follows: “Lourdes Pérez, a Puerto Rican Chicago-based, San Juan-raised interior decorator, was horrified at what she saw: ‘I don’t care that she’s white. Puerto Ricans come in all colors. But when I saw that hair, I thought ‘Dios mío’, we just passed a terrible legacy to the next generation.’

Despite exasperated responses from some Puerto Rico-based (white) men- “[t]his woman is saying that the prevalent lack of respect, the lawlessness, drugs, driving conditions, domestic and child abuse aren’t as terrible a legacy as a straight-haired Barbie” Lourdes Pérez then was pointed out by Louis Aguilar as a Puerto Rican woman who probably spent countless hours straightening her hair before going to the office or school. She was described as a woman ashamed of her grifería. Pérez contradicts herself in the previous quote because she emphasized, “Puerto Ricans come in all colors” and yet criticized what big hair the doll had. Puerto Ricans, as previously informed, are a mix of 3 bloods: Taíno, Spanish and African. Therefore, the issue that the Puerto Rican Barbie’s hair provoked is illogical. What Mattel should have worked on better, were its features and the box historical background. Because Barbie is a globalized toy, it is important that the company portrays the culture correctly so people won’t generalize when in contact with another culture.

The representation of Barbies as women helps re-create stereotypes because girls that play with these dolls are in the stage of life where they are in the process of formation as a human being. The doll’s profession or wardrobe will be what the child wants to grow up and be or know. Barbies as women are key to generalization and dolls should be what a kid wants it to be, not what a company wants women to be. In a way, Negrón-Muntaner suggests in “Barbie’s Hair” that cultural stereotypes affect not only how people around the world view Puerto Ricans but also how Puerto Ricans view themselves. A sort of indifference has been created with this doll. Puerto Rican folk know that the doll’s historical background is completely disfigured yet they still go out and buy the collectible Barbie.

That is to say, Puerto Ricans have passed to not care about how other people view them. People around the world see Puerto Ricans like the doll; peasants wearing bomba dresses with European lace, that meant the person is in a higher social class. It’s a bad combination of what we are. By reading these materials it has been clearly learned that it is very important that people know have a deep sense of they are and where they come from. Also, not to generalize a culture with a doll meant for a specific country. It is essential that we, as Puerto Ricans, become proud of our roots and get to know where we come from.

We cannot limit our knowledge of what a Puerto Rican is and where he or she comes from to a doll. It is also necessary that girls own up to a Barbie, not the other way around. A Barbie is not a paradigm of what a girl should grow up to be. We are not perfect or plastic and we are not meant to be it either. This is where society fails. Most people don’t let their children know that they are perfect in their own way. It is most important that we let others know the wrongs that come from generalization and stereotypes. These, along with prejudice, paralyze and deactivate intelligence because people won’t let it flow or let he or she get influenced by other cultures and learn.

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[ 1 ]. Mulatto is the race mix of Spanish and Taíno.
[ 2 ]. African-Puerto Rican dance that the lower class performed. [ 3 ]. Known as big kinky hair passed African folk.


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