This article is about Barbie dolls, cultivating a Christian identity in girls, and parenting young women to womanhood.

Source: Reformed Perspective, 1995. 2 pages.

"Barb" Wire “The child is father of the man.” (Wordsworth)

In the year 1959 a company in Japan manufactured a small, statuesque doll. This doll was created by a Ruth Handler and was destined to become a financial success in many countries of the world.

When Barbie was first introduced at the New York annual toy fair, toy buyers had never seen a doll like her. Unlike baby dolls and toddler dolls, soft, cuddly and cute, Barbie was uniquely proportioned as a woman – as a sexy woman. Her long legs, slim body and fashionable coiffeur were immaculate. Barbie's popularity was almost instantaneous. And children not half her age or one-eighth her bust size began to play adult make-believe games that far outran their tender years with a plastic role model who wore expensive clothes and did not resemble Mom in the least.

Today much is written on parenting. We are told to do this and to avoid that. The verb “to parent” has even been coined. Certainly parenting should be of great interest to Christians. Children are a blessing, a gift from God, and a Biblical upbringing is imperative. As God-fearing families it should be our first and foremost desire to raise up children who will mature to honour God in the society in which they are placed.

Children have potential. The way they are taught at an early age will likely be reflected later on in the adult values they will embrace. Children have understanding. They observe. They learn easily from what is allowed. They deduce and weigh what is done and not done by their parents. Never underestimate a child. Children are individuals. Each little heart has its own joys and sorrows, likes and dislikes, abilities and disabilities. Children are also sinful. They need chastisement, correction and training all the way.

Back to Barbie – svelte, modish, make-up and all. It's interesting to note that a certain Sheik Khaled Al Madkour, president of a committee in Kuwait City that advises the government on religious issues, has declared that to buy Barbie is forbidden by Islam. He pronounced her too sexy for small children to play with. If all countries were as discerning as Sheik Madkour in this respect, the Barbie collector market would collapse. This market includes books with descriptions of the dolls, of which there are thought to be 700 million worldwide. Added to these tabulated descriptions is information on how to recognize individual Barbie ages and dates. The first Barbie encyclopedia was written in 1975 and Barbie conventions are held each year. What a tremendous waste of energy and what a foolish pastime for people to engage in!

One of the most wonderful things parents can pass on to their children is that they are fearfully and wonderfully made (Psalm 139). To teach sons and daughters that they are God's handiwork is vital in their development as Christian adults. Calvin said that the body is “a factory where innumerable operations of God are carried on” and that appreciation of this should cause people to “burst forth in His praise.” Children notice, generally at a very early age, that there are gender differences and parents should be concerned about beginning to shape normal sexual identity in them at that time.

Back to Barbie – the doll with the perfect measurements who was not made to be cradled – a figure not designed to be pushed about in a baby carriage – a toy that does not need burping or a clean diaper. But a doll, nevertheless, who will instill very definite sexual ideas in children – ideas which will affect their outlook on marriage, career and other goals. Barbie is old, perhaps as old as a mother, but she has never had children. Her clothes, make-up and hairstyle change constantly. She is beautiful, famous and never depends on a husband. She can be turned into an astronaut, engineer, doctor or ballet dancer (but never a mother). The small, plastic, unwrinkled thirty-six year old doll is, in fact, propagating the idea that gender has nothing to do with what men and women set as their goals before God.

Sexual identity is shaped in two ways by parents. Firstly, both father and mother have to demonstrate their distinctive roles in the household. Secondly, they have to encourage their sons in masculine behaviour and their daughters in feminine behaviour.

Scripture is pretty clear on what feminine behaviour signifies in 1 Timothy 5:14 and Titus 2:3-5. The model of mother and housewife is upheld with honour here. 1 Timothy 2:9-10 speaks of feminine moral values in terms of modesty, decency and propriety. Contrary to this, the Barbie figure promotes the idea that little girls can and ought to be much more than the Biblical model of housewife and Mom. She also subtly suggests that female identity comes from cosmetics and fashions.

If we take seriously the God-given distinctions of male and female in a household, we must give ample opportunity to little girls to grow in the ability to nurture – to look at caring for a family as a wonderful way of life given by God.

Motherhood is rewarding. No one else in the whole world has the same opportunity to mold character, teach virtues and encourage potential Sarahs as a mother does. The basic qualities that God has given a woman to become pregnant and nurse a baby make her the one most qualified to care for children. Barbie is a sterile role model. She may have success, fame and glamour at her polished fingertips, but she has never married. She promotes career, not love, honour and obedience. Her goal is typically feminist and basically selfish. Solitary, aloof and sophisticated, she squeezes the child that holds her into a worldly mold.

The place of a woman in the teaching of Islam is one of an inferior being whose share of intellect does reach a man's level. The testimony of a woman is not equal to that of a man. Her testimony is half the testimony of the man with regard to financial matters. Her relationship to God is also held to be spiritually deficient. A woman under the Islamic system of marriage has no human rights unless the fact that a slave has rights under a system of slavery is considered. When Sheik Khaleb Al Madkour set guidelines for not allowing Barbie into Muslim homes, he was doing the right thing for the wrong reason. He reasoned that nothing should enter the Muslim home which would give a woman or girl any idea that she has worth or rights. She was made to serve man. She is his slave and her duty therefore is absolute obedience to the husband in all that he asks of her person. As Mohammed himself said, “A woman, who at the moment of death enjoys the full approval of her husband, will find her place in Paradise.”

When we, as Christians, bar toys such as Barbie from our homes, let it be for the right reasons. Let it be to honour and glorify God. Let it be so that our children will indeed recognize their true calling and worth in the eyes of God. Ah, for a soft teddy-bear and a stay-at-home Mom! What changes the world would see after the next twenty-five years.

“The eagle never lost so much time as when he submitted to learn of the crow.” Blake

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