Mrs Potato Head Inspiring More Girls Toward Careers Than Job-Hopper Barbie

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Don’t laugh, it’s true! A new study has found young girls are more inspired to take up careers when playing with a female toy like Mrs. Potato Head from the ‘Toy Story’ franchise, than if they were playing with Barbie who has had numerous careers.

37 girls aged 4-7 were part of a focus group at Oregon State University psychology department, which published the results in research journal ‘Sex Roles‘.

“Early exposure to sexualized images may have unintended consequences in the form of perceived limitations on future selves,” it states. One of those heavily sexualized images is of course Barbie.

The girls were given both Barbies and Mrs. Potato Head toys to play with and asked about traditional male career choices vs traditional female career choices. The answers were vastly different depending on which they were playing with at the time.

“Girls reported that boys could do significantly more occupations than they could themselves, especially when considering male-dominated careers. In addition, girls’ ideas about careers for themselves compared to careers for boys interacted with condition, such that girls who played with Barbie indicated that they had fewer future career options than boys, whereas girls who played with Mrs. Potato Head reported a smaller difference between future possible careers for themselves as compared to boys.”

Barbie-careers

It is interesting to note that Barbie is the one toy for girls who specifically promotes careers, more so than Mrs. Potato Head. So why is Barbie less inspiring than the plastic girl with the unrealistic curves? Why does Barbie denote sexuality more than careers?

Perhaps young girls are more aware of the social conversations being had in pop culture than we think. Or perhaps because Barbie has had an unrealistic amount of jobs since her inception (along with her proportions) girls are not inclined to look at her as a role model to base their lives off.

There seems to be an overt ‘glamorization’ of career choices for women played out in Barbie, that don’t seem to be resonating with girls. Since her creation in 1959, Barbie has had 150 careers. That’s not exactly the type of knowledge or message you’d want your young daughter to be immersed with from a young age, right?

“Playing with Barbie has an effect on girls’ ideas about their place in the world,” said Aurora M. Sherman, an associate professor in the School of Psychological Science at OSU. “It creates a limit on the sense of what’s possible for their future. While it’s not a massive effect, it is a measurable and statistically significant effect.”

The emphasis on appearance and fashion may play a huge part in the way the girls in the focus group (and most likely the rest of the world!) view Barbie. Mrs. Potato Head was selected as a neutral doll because the toy is similar in color and texture, but doesn’t have the sexualized characteristics of Barbie.

Of course this is only an initial study, and OSU plan to do more. The most important message to parents is that they have a wide variety of toys available for their kids to play with, instead of just choosing items from ‘the pink aisle”.

If it’s dolls they want, we suggest the Lottie Dolls whose message is not focused on outward attributes but inner qualities. If it is something to encourage their cognitive thinking, then Goldie Blox is a perfect idea.

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