As I tried to outrace the tempestuous vestiges of Hurricane Arthur in Times Square last weekend shortly before curtain, looming over the heads of scurrying drenched minions below I saw a larger than life billboard pitching “If you can dream it, you can be it,” juxtaposed in dissonant conversation, against “Holler If Ya Hear Me” across the street—the musical based on Tupac Shakur’s story.
Entrepreneur Barbie, middle aged with 150 careers to her name, now regales the Great White Way, though not as a struggling actor, but rather an overnight sensation. As with all of Barbie’s personifications, whose incarnations depict stereotypical female career perfection, EB has presumably already broken through the “plastic ceiling,” effortlessly.
In reality, sentiment for Mattel’s doll has lagged since we began tracking EB, when it was announced in February, in our social media intelligence platform NetBase.
Ironically, however, it took Mattel 55 years to connect the dots with the launch of EB. Mattel itself was created by a female entrepreneur, Ruth Handler.
Mattel’s launch of EB last month comes on the heels of a highly charged climate where women’s rights are being threatened at the Supreme Court level and sexual assaults on women are increasing, fueled by the objectification of women not only in marketing (eg. Barbie’s Sports Illustrated cover shoot and Pantene’s #unapologetic campaign, which now riffs in EB marketing), but also by public school dress codes. Peggy Orenstein describes some disturbing dress code policies in a New York Times Op-Ed, whose language objectifies girls in particular, placing the onus on them, not boys. Orenstein also cites evidence that self-objectification among girls leads to low self esteem.
A Twitter analysis of #unapologetic in NetBase, reveals both acclaim for Mattel’s mantra inspiring girls to release their “inner boss,” as well as disdain for a “sexist, outdated,” campaign.
In response to this frightening climate, young girls and women have rallied around the empowering #YesAllWomen. As for #unapologetic, while I’d expect it of Pantene, Mattel just doesn’t seem to get it, that #unapologetic as a moniker for Entrepreneur Barbie is simply irreverent and contemptuous. Worse, when listed in a bogus EB LinkedIn profile, where serious entrepreneurs interact, it mocks women.
Predictably, EB’s launch has ignited a discussion in social media, including contributions from female entrepreneurs and leaders whose stories illuminate why EB is an aberration of a woman’s entrepreneurial reality. Other posts, like Mashable’s are simply insensitive when they say that Mattel has put the “B” in “Boss Lady.” Alas, the female writer may be naïve to the sexist implications and dual standard propagated the “B” word, as I have written in another post about Facebook COO Sheryl Sandberg’s campaign with the Girl Scouts to #BanBossy. Lest we forget, the “B” word also got Jill Abramson, the New York Times first female managing editor fired—in what appears to most of us to be blatant sexual discrimination.
And, paradoxically, EB has 10 human Barbie consultants—Chief Inspirational Officers—successful women entrepreneurs, who give “voice” to EB—ostensibly “advising” EB owners of what it takes to be a successful female entrepreneur and leader. I only hope that EB’s human advisors mentor honestly in their Mattel-sponsored advice columns and don’t gloss over what it really takes to be a successful female leader—chutzpah, grit, risk-taking, passion, self-confidence, mentoring, innovative-thinking, exhaustive hard work.
Mattel has also co-opted #lean-in, Sheryl Sandberg’s emboldened clarion call to women to assert their opinions, ideas and passions, fearlessly. Mattel’s riding on #lean-in’s coattails is without merit and in my opinion trivializes women entrepreneurs.
I’d be remiss if I didn’t say image and demeanor are important, as any self-confident female entrepreneur will tell you, but Mattel misrepresents and trivialized this aspect, instead pushing ideal improbable body image over mental prowess. There are many contradictions represented by EB as a model for young entrepreneurial girls, fully expounded on by Barbara Lippert of MediaPost.
Mattel’s message to young girls? Submit to Mattel’s female objectifying body conscious dress code and you will achieve the epitome of success. By objectifying yourself, you will attract the right boardroom mentoring groom (maybe the marrying kind, too), get the dream house, and more. But only if you submit to female objectification. Dress code: impeccable, pristine, starched torpedo-boob enhancing, cinched waste hot pink dress, black patent heels, accessorized with statement necklace, iPhone, iPad and chic bag. No wearable tech, no jeans, hoodies, bedheads….
Mattel says it hopes that Entrepreneur Barbie will "inspire a generation of female entrepreneurs." But as we female entrepreneurs all know, it takes more than a Barbie Doll to inspire, even if she does stimulate creative roll playing by girls. It takes real-life entrepreneurial skills and leadership training, like the leadership labs my friend Nathalie Molina leads at Barnard’s Athena Center for Leadership, where in the trenches real-life role-modeling is offered to young aspiring female entrepreneurs through entrepreneur and leadership bootcamps
It is no secret that Barbie sales have fallen worldwide for the 4th consecutive quarter, but dressing Entrepreneur Barbie for “an ice-cream social,” as one post noted, is a “failed concept and execution.”
Sorry, Mattel, cultural relevance is critical to a turnaround toy. Women have already moved way beyond your “model” entrepreneur.