I never played Barbie with my kids. We played Post Office—with letters and parcels being delivered about the house—and Parking Space, where a mass of Matchbox cars lined the streets, and we drove around the floor, looking for a place to park. (We were living in Brooklyn at the time.)
Had either of my sons wanted to play Barbie, I would have been fine with that. I’m sure I would have been right there on the floor, playing Barbie with them. Whatever would have floated their imaginary play boat.
Obviously, imaginary play is a great bonding tool for Dads and kids. As a Dad, you’re helping your kid’s imagination and creativity flourish. You’re demonstrating the depth of your relationship by dedicating time to being with your kid, doing something s/he cares about. You don’t have to be Dr. Spock to realize it’s a productive use of time.
Now Mattel is releasing a new campaign encouraging Dads to take time off from their busy Sundays (i.e., halftime) to play Barbie with their daughters. The campaign is called, cleverly, “Dads Who Play Barbie,” and features a series of TV commercials where actual Dads play Barbie with their actualdaughters.
In the commercials, various Barbies play the roles of doctor, astronaut, firefighter, teacher and yoga instructor. Each commercial has a moment when Dad speaks to the camera, and delivers a statement along the lines of “she can be anything she wants to be.”
According to MediaPost, Mattel based the campaign on research that shows that girls who grow up with a loving, supportive relationship with their fathers have a better chance of becoming strong, self-reliant adults. While this news isn’t exactly “Man Bites Dog,” it’s a reminder worth hearing.
Each commercial ends with the line, “Time spent in her imaginary world is an investment in her real world.”
I’ll buy that.
The commercials themselves don’t address any of the longstanding “Barbie issues,” primarily body image, but that’s not the point. It’s about spending time with your kid, engaging with her on her level. If your daughter was really into ping pong, you could have the same outcome. But it’s the fact that it’s grown men “playing Barbie,” one of the “girliest” activities of childhood, that shakes up the gender expectation equation, and provides a compelling visual contrast.
Could the next logical step be to encourage Dads to play Barbie with their sons? I’m sure the conversation has been had somewhere in the halls of Mattel. “Hey, we’re missing out on half the kid market!”
I don’t see it happening anytime soon, but hey, that’s a can of gender role worms for a different day.