I have never owned a Barbie doll. I owned a big black African doll I called Babie. She wore blue overalls over a red and white striped shirt and she could walk if I held her hand just right in mine. Her hair didn’t need combing as it was tightly woven into curls on her beautifully shaped head. Her large brown eyes sparkled until she shut them whenever I laid her down to sleep, and when I turned her over, she would open her eyes and say Mama. Barbie never said Mama.
I consider myself a feminist. It’s a little antiquated to admit it, but it’s true. Barbie was about fashionable clothing, great jobs, cool friends and pretty accessories—a woman who always wore high heels, and walked and slept on tippy toes. Barbie was created to be the well-dressed and attractive role model to be considered a tool for teaching daughters about the importance of appearance and femininity. I give her credit because Barbie moved far beyond the career ambitions of a teen fashion model. Over the years since 1959, Barbie has held down more than 80 jobs, including paleontologist, astronaut, and McDonald’s cashier. Yet, at the time, I used to think, “Poor Barbie, she can’t stand on her own two legs without support from another girl/woman holding her upright.” My Babie could stand on her own two legs without assistance. I grew up loving my Babie for her tomboy and carefree appearance which screamed freedom from conforming to how a woman should dress and look, and I imagined I could be anything I wanted to be on my own two legs.
Flash forward to the 70’s. Driven to make a name for myself, I had started working in a publications office, meeting last minute deadlines into the late hours of night, rehearsing for an amateur theater company into the wee hours of the morning and working toward a post-graduate degree, volunteering at a retirement home, keeping up with the Jones’, and happily married. I was on the rise as an independent, educated woman at the forefront of changes. And change did happen. I became pregnant with my first child. For a young aspiring professional, to leave my job was out of the question. The Women’s Movements of earlier years and Feminists of the 70’s to which I belonged, had paved the way to the plethora of choices that became ours (just like Barbie) as a direct consequence of our liberation, externally as well as internally. After all that, I was not going to jeopardize my position. I hid my pregnancy well into my 5th month. When my daughter was born, I jumped right back on the wagon and resumed my roles in life, and like Barbie, I changed clothes to fit the roles. I tried to fit everything in at once. I worked harder to meet deadlines as they became powerful motivators behind my sitting in an office for 9 hours a day– I wanted to be sure I could make dinner, pick a child up from day care, and yes, in between get to finish my postgraduate studies. Sleepless nights became what I thought was a life sentence. Was I to spend the rest of my life in a mismatch of day to day motherhood and the roller coaster of deadlines and meetings?
Within a year of my daughter’s arrival, (and with no offence to a husband who helped), I realized that without the assistance of another woman holding me up, (much like a little girl holding Barbie up to stand on her own legs), my career was to be put on hold. Besides, my baby girl said Mama. She smiled and laughed and hugged me unconditionally. Being a mother became, without question, the number one priority for me. For mothers in the workplace, without the support, usually of other women, it is practically a death by slow unnoticed increments of cuts. By supporting each other, women can help pave the path for their future in so many ways, but it starts with just recognizing that we’re all in different positions at different times in our lives. One thing is clear. Motherhood seems to be the future for most women. According to the 2012 US Census Bureau, nearly 81% of women will become mothers by the age of 44. Hence, mothers, daughters, fathers and sons, embrace the women who gave you life; embrace your future, and support it at work!
Incidentally, in 2012 “I Can Be President Barbie” came out wearing platform loafers which provided her with a base, and for the first time, Barbie was able to stand on her own, albeit still on her tippy-toes. She still doesn’t speak. My Babie still says Mama.