There was an interesting article in the Domion Post today. Unfortunately it's not on Stuff, but here's the jist:
Barbie that plastic icon of girlhood fantasy play, is routinely torutred by children, research has found.Now obviously this shows how smart and cool 7-11 year old girls are. There are a number of different theories given about why people might hate barbies so much, in the article possible theories suggest included: that girls are rejecting adulthood, rejecting childhood, rejecting unsafe body images, or rejecting mass-produced crap. Now I think in a lot of cases it could be any or all of these.
The researchers had not intended to focus on Barbie but they were taken aback by the rejction, hatred and violence she provoked when they asked children about their feelings for the doll. Violence and torutre were repeatedly reported across age, school and gender. No other toy or brand name provoked such a response.
If I was going to offer an explanation based on my own experience with Barbie. I'd say girls are violent to her because she is an object, in a way no other toy was. I was a kid who gave personalities to everything. Toy cars would have personalities, duplo people would have distinct personalities, anything which I had more than two of had personalities. But Barbie always looked the same, and she always looked blank, so the only Barbie I ever owned (it was a present) never got a personality, and I did treat it like an object (I don't know if I was cruel to it, but I think legs did end up coming off, and there was probably some hair cutting).
This could have been a reaction to my parents; while there was no shortage of toys when I was a kid (there are four of us, which means toys start breeding in a middle class household), we were never allowed the mass marketed toys. There were no Barbies, no Strawberry Shortcakes, no My Little Pony, no Care Bears and no Cabbage Patch Kids at our place. I wasn't alone in this I had a friend who had a collection of Strawberry Shortcake figures (which all had their own personality and which we'd take around the neighbourhood in a thrilling game called 'throw the brick), and I'm pretty sure my best friend had a my little pony. But generally my friend's parents looked down on (and probably, more importantly, couldn't afford) these sorts of toys. I'd internalised this value system from a pretty early age.
But the Strawberry Shortcakes and the My Little Ponies of my friends all had personalities, and were looked after lovingly. So I do think it was the very blandness for Barbie, for me.
But I do wonder if part of the reason that the researchers sort this attitude was because: "You might expect little girls to love their Barbie and expect an imaginary love in return." (from the article). Perhaps the reason people seek explanations for girls not treating barbies like little babies is because we're supposed to nuture everything. Sometimes you just cut off barbies hair because it's fun to experiment with hair. Sometimes you pull her leg off, because you can. Sometimes Barbie gets used to stir paste for paper machie, because she's quite a good stirrer.
I think the reason Barbie, in particular, gets treated with some violence is a complicated combination of all the ideas raised in the article. But I think the reason girls treat some toys with violence, why they try to modify them, why they treat them like objects, is probably exactly the same reason boys do the same thing: because experimenting on toys is a way of learning.