Berlin Leftists’ New Target: Barbie Dreamhouse

Berlin Leftists’ New Target: Barbie Dreamhouse (WSJ article by Mary M. Lane, 5/17/13)

“Workers of the World Unite to Fight ‘Pinkified’ Resident, Stiletto Chairs”

…”It would be a huge danger for capitalism if working men and women were united, so one of the best ways to divide and conquer the workers is by enabling men to over-sexualize women and by preoccupying women with sexualizing themselves,” said group leader Michael Koschitzki, 27 years old. “This is why we need to oppose Barbie.”…

“Barbie has been around for over 50 years. Can you show me that’s really held back society with all the positive changes for women?” asked Jörg Niepraschk, a father of two girls he brought to the Dreamhouse for a preview on Tuesday.

“The Junge Linke adamantly say “yes,” arguing that Barbie is a symbol of proletariat repression and a consumerist society set in place by power-hungry capitalists…

“The Junge Linke argue that Barbie’s “pinkified” personality cultivates a desire in girls to focus on looks instead of careers and spend their cash on expensive beauty products…

One of many wonderful papers that quickly come to mind is Sandra Bartky’s “Foucault, Femininity, and the Modernization of Patriarchal Power”. (Click here for a PDF copy posted on the web for now.)

14 thoughts on “Berlin Leftists’ New Target: Barbie Dreamhouse

  1. This is why I can’t stand marxists, they even have to frame this in terms of class war to be able to oppose it. If this “dreamhouse” would advance the communist cause, it would be okay, that’s at least what they imply.

  2. derFeminist, also with that guy’s logic, male-only or female-only societies should all be Marxist. I’ve been in the Army which was almost exclusively male and there was no striving towards Marxism.

  3. The alleged (if not actual) problems represented here certainly apply across/to all classes – though in some cases the problems represented here may well manifest themselves somewhat differently for different groups of people, including different classes. The Marxist analyses that quickly come to my mind seem to involve if not require just as much if not more internalization of gendered and sexist disciplinary practices among the bourgeoisie as among the proletariat; Bartky convincingly argues that understanding such disciplinary practices goes well beyond standard Marxist accounts of political ideology.

  4. Marxists don’t claim that a single sex society would be Marxist.

    The idea is that commodifying women distracts both women and men from the way that they are exploited by capitalism. Women are distracted insofar as they dedicate their energies to making themselves into objects, into buying clothes, cosmetics, worrying about their appearance more than they do about their exploitation. Men are distracted insofar as instead of seeing women as partners in a struggle against exploitation, they see them as objects to oppress or to scorn (misogyny).

    The “dreamhouse” cannot “advance the communist cause” since the communist cause, in theory at least, is that no one, neither women nor men, will be a commodity or an object used by others. Communism, by definition, is the end of the commodification of other people and hence, has no use for dream houses which commodify women.

    That’s the theory at least. The practice may be different, but the practice is always different from the theory: that goes for feminist theory as well as Marxist theory.

  5. To swallerstein in comment #5 above: as usual, I share your well-articulated sentiments generally and points about communism particularly.

    However, to be fair to comment #1 above, I think the author presents a justified grievance/objection in the first sentence. Your comment seems focused on (responding to) the second sentence – perhaps even to the exclusion of the first sentence.

    In addition, many Marxists have traditionally analyzed the oppression of women in (various) class terms and in possibly simplistic accounts according to which “…false consciousness engendered in women by patriarchal ideology is at the basis of female subordination…” Bartky, pp. 103-104 and also pp. 105-106 – if anyone who likes this blog has not carefully read this paper by Bartky, I very strongly recommend reading it at least once (not to mention her other work!).

  6. David:

    Engels in his book, the Origins of the Family, Private Property and the State, which I
    take to be the canonical Marxist work on the oppression of women, explains the oppression of women and patriarchy as resulting from private property, previous systems being matriarchal and not based on private private in his opinion.

    I’m not sure how Engels’ work is seen in the light of contemporary feminist historiography and it may be a bit simplistic, but Engels certainly does not blame female subordination on women’s “false consciousness”.

    In fact, I don’t think that either Marx or Engels uses the term “false consciousness”.
    If you know who first comes up with the concept of “false consciousness”, I’d be genuinely interested in learning who is the source of that expression.

  7. proof reading:

    that should read “not based on private property”……sorry.

  8. To swallerstein in comments 7-9:

    I do not understand why you are directing your comments at me instead of at the author of comment #1 or against Sandra Bartky or against prominent feminist criticisms of Marxist feminism.

    Bearing in mind my comment #6 above, it seems as though you fail to acknowledge, let alone respond to, the concerns expressed both in comment #1 and in the source material/quotation(s) that led the author of comment #1 to express such concerns.

    If possible, please try to be fairer to comment #1 (and perhaps to study the relevant literature – this does not include Wikipedia) before commenting on the issues under question.

    Also, among the many threads of argument we can find in Marx’s writings, the concept of false consciousness is arguably essential to many of his claims about both ideology and alienation, for instance, regardless of whether he uses that particular phrase.


  9. In the eighties when a true battle between genuine left-wing socialist movements and right-wing business interests (with their paramilitary enforcers) were tearing much of Central America apart, the common practice of foreign businessman setting up factories and factory farms in Central American countries was to also build bars with a heavy disco theme and complementary boutiques and cosmetic counters for women.

    The young adults that were ripe for building solidarity and an effective movement were frittered away drinking and internalizing a sexuality based on prostitution and pornography, in an environment that had no use for children, the elderly, and family life. Divide and conquer. Exporting the worship and commodification of youth is a great strategy to divide generations.

    Boy’s and girl’s toys are no less a colonization of children’s minds, than empires’ tricks to colonize the minds of the cheap labor in developing cultures so that their labor can be bought cheap and they can be made into consumers at the same time. Divide and conquer. Also, no labor is cheaper than “women’s” labor– it’s often free or pays only room and board.

    Whether or not this is a conscious decision on the part of toy manufacturers makes no difference, structural inequality and polarization tends to work as well or better when it works by default and so appears to be happening “naturally” and can also be used to justify further polarization and inequality. In a sense, these toys ARE capitalism.

  10. David,

    I appreciate your comments and your feedback.

    I think that we have different conceptions of what type of conversation is being held in this blog.

    You seem to believe that it is an academic discussion (I use the word “academic” in a neutral, descriptive sense), in which one needs to read all the relevant literature.

    I’m not currently involved in academia and I come here to converse with other people interested in feminist issues, such as yourself. I confess that I do not read the relevant literature and in fact, I don’t even have access to a decent library.

    I hope that my input may be fruitful to you in your commitment to feminism, even though I have not read the relevant literature, just as your input has always been fruitful for me.

  11. I agree with derFeminist’s complaint (comment 1) regarding the misleading Marxist construal of the Barbie problems in the article. I appreciate David’s follow-up comment (4). Unfortunately, what I know, experience, and live do not share the wavelengths in comments 7, 8, and 9. Nevertheless, much food for thought here for people with all stripes of ideas.

  12. Interesting paper. It’s as if we could trace the Protestant reform, the panopticon, and the internalization of Puritan working habits from men in post-colonial prisons to Tammy Faye Baker and just… feel like giving up, or something.

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