Tom Bennett

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Barbie Girls in the Classroom: How Mattel sees us

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Is YOUR classroom filled with magic & sound? I HOPE SO.

Whoever fights with monsters should see to it that he does not become a monster in the process. And when you gaze long into an abyss the abyss also gazes into you.”
Nietzsche, Beyond Good and Evil, aphorism # 146.

Oh, Freddie, how wise you were. When Morpehus asked Neo in The Matrix (an A-level Philosophy staple) ‘Do you want to know how far down the rabbit hole goes?’ he could have been talking about the past half-hour of joy and dread I have had exploring the delights of yet another ‘how others see us’ meme, in the form of Teacher Barbie, one of Mattel’s many clever attempts to illustrate the militant feminism of Andrea Dworkin in plastic miniature mannequins. (And if you haven’t read any of m’mselle Dworkin’s books, then do, do. They’re a LAUGH a MINUTE)

There was a Barbie everything (Dworkin Barbie alas, failed to launch, having split the focus groups), so of COURSE there would be a teacher trope; of course. And not just one but several. Come with me now as I lead you down a very strange school corridor indeed- the Earth 2 bizarro world of Teacher Barbie….

1. 1995 Teacher Barbie



‘There’s so much to learn- they’re NEVER done!’ 

She’s game, I’ll give her that, and clearly subscribes to the idea that learning is a life-long process. But NEVER done? I bet she’s one of those teachers that doesn’t get through the whole syllabus in time for the exams. I had one like that- a raddled old biology soak who, a week before the GCSEs handed us all a pack of fifty sheets of closely typed A4 on plant reproduction and said, ‘You might need to know this for the exam.’ Is this you, 1995 Teacher Barbie? BASTARD

Good to see a strong emphasis on numeracy and literacy in Teacher Barbie’s classroom (did I say classroom? TWO students? Sounds like a tutorial, maybe. Or some ghastly private Montessori confection). ‘What’s one and two?’ says Teacher Barbie, and child 1 goes, ‘Two?’ like every little sarcastic bastard has since time began and teachers congregated in stone age class-caves, striking over fair allocation of brontosaurus meat. ‘No!’ says the permanently icing-glazed maven, ‘Try again!’ Nice take-up time, nice friendly encouragement, finished off with a drop of appropriate praise to habituate good learning habits. I wonder what she would have done if the child, as some are wont, just repeated wrong answers, as their nursery gang mates sniggered sympathetically. ‘No! Try again!’ only lasts so long, before the penny drops and something dies inside the teacher, never to be reborn.

‘Teacher Barbie rings the bell- for recess fun; and hugs all round for jobs well done!’

Teacher Barbie lives in a school where SHE decides when the lesson ends, which is pretty cool. Might be a bit tricky if there ‘s more than one teacher in the school, otherwise the corridors would be like the fire escape of a brothel when the police smash the front doors in, but I’m sure she knows what she’s doing. LITTLE bit more concerned about the hugs. I’m all for positive reinforcement, but does everyone who does well get a hug? What happens if they tire of hugs? What if someone misinterprets it?  Recipe for disaster.  Do NOT hug your students: first rule of Teacher Club. See, Teacher Barbie, you just haven’t thought this through.

Finally, while it’s loathsome to append any portrait of a woman with a discussion of her physical nature (nobody, for example, weaves comments about Michael Wilshaw’s f*ckability into Sunday supplement articles- at least not the ones I read: ‘Still toned and taut despite his advancing years, Sir Michael crosses his legs like a panther as we speak, perhaps unconsciously drawing attention to the crisp line of his….’ STOPSTOPSTOPMAKEITSTOP) I must pause for a moment at Teacher Barbie’s idea of appropriate attire. What on earth was she thinking? The enormous cheerleader skirt that doubles as dungarees, teamed with the shirt and tie, and dear GOD the faux Mondrian print. She resembles the stunt double of Kevin’s mom in Home Alone. But she harbours a dark secret; while she may appear to be the kind of teacher you could trust with hugging your children, this page explains the horror of what lies beneath: she has NO undercrackers. I have no idea what the Professional Standards are for sin-linen, but I imagine that the minimum knicker expectation would be ‘some.’ Hussy.

Not a fan of conceptual art, probably.

2. 2002 Art Teacher

Fast forward seven years, and apparently Mattel think that teachers dress like Daphne from Scooby Doo. Also, the students now have to dress identically to their teachers, which would be, in most circumstances, a sartorial tragedy, as gloomy, humiliated children all around the country had to wear inexpensive polyester suits from ASDA paired with novelty Simpsons ties and shirts (ironed at the front only), or sensible shift dresses five years out of fashion. Ha ha, actually, I think I’d like that. Label bullying: terminated.

Also: a worrying inclusion of some kind of ‘rubbing plate’ accessory, and I’m not even going there.

3. 2011 I can be…Art Teacher

Stephen King once wrote that every horror writer should write, at least once, about the idea that beneath our concrete world of certainty and reassuring monotony, there pulsed a transcendent underworld of unimaginably vast, ineffable horror. Come with me now to the  realms of Cthulhu as we dig through the foundations of the rabbit hole: I can be….Art Teacher Barbie. With this, ‘Little girls can explore different lifestyles, careers…it’s a lot of fun.’ Really? You should give these out to careers advisers/ TTA. ‘Thinking about being a teacher? Here, play with this for a while, try it on for size.’

Actually, maybe that’s not so far from the truth these days: the gap between the adverts and the reality is an abyss. Many an NQT has stepped into a room of bedlam and thought, ‘Hmm, my tutor didn’t mentioned they’d all be shouting at me. Perhaps I didn’t play with the role-play dolls enough.’

‘Teach your students about art! Art teachers help students learn about art styles & tools-and encourage them to express their creativity! Teach your class by creating cool art in a classic style. When you’re done, print out your masterpiece!’

Ah, I get it. She’s all about the creativity. I BET she like Ken Robinson.

Art Teacher Barbie is dressed like she’s going for ice cream. Also: heels in an art room = health and safety concerns. The Stepford demonstrator in the video above explains that she ‘comes with everything,’ and I’m thinking THAT IS MY KIND OF ART TEACHER before I realise that she means accessories, including a magic canvas where the picture just appears. Which makes me think that her classes probably aren’t that hard if you can just chuck a bucket of wet at your paper and clock off for a fag. Maybe she teaches modules? I imagine her A*-C rate is pretty impressive- ‘Here, just drop some Evian on it, presto bongo masterpiece!’

She also has the oddest lever/ arm motion I’ve seen outside of the Six Million Dollar Man toy (youngsters, avert your gaze): a ‘painting motion’ apparently. Both she and Steve Austin look more like they’re rubbing off a pygmy, but we all create our own realities.


4. 2006 Collector’s Edition Teacher Barbie

‘You haven’t done your homework, have you? You’re PATHETIC.’

The Barnet! The Bow! The Humanity!

I don’t know what the boys from Mattel were getting off their chests when they designed this rather fierce puppet, but I hope they all felt better afterwards. This, then, is what the teacher of 2006 was like. I believe the working title for this stern dominatrix was ‘Complete Bitch Barbie.’ If you can see past the puffed cuffs, the tight-laced waistcoat rearranging her kidneys, and the geography classroom from the ending of 2001, there remains the final level of Dante’s Hell. I mean the tartan manual clasped under her arm, known only to the damned as, ‘A polite lady,’ it says. If anyone can source this textbook for me, I’d be keen to review it.

And for some reason, she needs a tomato to teach it. Curious.

Other points of horror: the product description says the glasses are ‘cerebral’; and the doll is ‘not for use with other Barbies’- presumably because they’d all immediately HATE her, or she’d get them all at each others’ throats in five minutes. Finally, it’s described as ‘for adult collectors’ and something sinks deep in my pelvic saddle, and not in a good way.

On second thoughts, maybe we shouldn’t let kids play with Teacher Barbies any more.


3 Comments

  1. Tom Bennett says:

    I should point out that I saw THIS blog half way through writing my own. Similar enough to be worth mentioning….

    http://pthousewife.wordpress.com/2011/07/19/teacher-barbie-through-the-years/

  2. H.O'Shea says:

    Laughed out loud… Until my heart sank!

    Helene

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