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"She's good at winning fashion shows". Young girls' play with Barbie: A qualitative and quantitative study

Conference contribution
Authors Kristina Holmqvist Gattario
Carolina Lunde
Published in Appearance Matters 7, London, Storbritannien, 28-30 juni
Publication year 2016
Published at Department of Psychology
Language en
Keywords children's play, dolls, self-image, career aspirations
Subject categories Psychology

Abstract

Background: Previous research has shown that playing with gender stereotyped and sexualized toys, for example Barbie, may restrict young girls’ views of themselves and their future possibilities. In this study, we aimed to replicate and extend these findings by investigating the stories Swedish girls create about Barbie, and the relationships between playing with Barbie and girls’ views on future careers options and beliefs about physical abilities. As a comparison to Barbie, we used a newly developed doll called myIdolls (www.myidolls.se), with more realistic physical features than Barbie. Methods: Interviews with 30 girls, age 5-7, were conducted. Half of them played with a Barbie doll, and half of them played with a myIdolls doll. Interviews included telling a story about the doll. Participants were also asked about their views on future career options for themselves and for boys. Finally, questions focusing on participants’ beliefs about girls’ and boys’ physical abilities (e.g., running fast, lifting something heavy) were posed. Results: A thematic analysis of the story-telling data showed that the stories told by the Barbie group revealed a more stereotypical feminine role (involving features of appearance, shopping, and not being part of working life). The stories told by the myIdolls group, on the other hand, were more varied and imaginative. Multivariate analyses showed no effect of doll condition for future career options, although girls’ playing with Barbie reported slightly fewer future career options for themselves. Regardless condition, girls’ reported significantly fewer future career options for themselves than for boys, especially for male-dominated occupations. Participants also reported that girls were able to do fewer physical tasks than boys. Discussion: The results indicate that Barbie may encourage play that revolves around the stereotypical feminine role, whereas playing with a more realistic doll may encourage a wider range of play stories and imagination. While we did not replicate previous findings showing that Barbie may restrict young girls’ future occupational aspirations, there were tendencies in the expected direction. Also, considering that the Swedish cultural context is among the most gender equal worldwide, it is alarming that these young girls reported fewer future career options for themselves than for boys and that girls were able to do fewer physical tasks than boys.

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