The first European Barbie Dreamhouse has opened in Berlin to shouts of protests from feminists. Dr Stevie Schmiedel is chair of 'Pink Stinks' Germany. She was at the protests and told DW's Emma Wallis what she thinks.
Have you been inside? What does it look like?
I haven't seen inside, they won't let me inside (laughs). But I've seen photos of the inside and, of course, it's the pink hell we all expected. It is completely pink, it has got a huge pink stiletto shoe in front of it and it is all covered in pink, which is the color for girls' toys now in Germany - well, for the last 10 years anyway.
When you go into the building you can decide whether to be a pop star or supermodel and those are basically the themes inside. You can bake cupcakes too, but you have to pay extra to be a superstar or a top model. It's 12 euros to get in and then you have to pay a further 10 or 15 to become a top model. You don't actually wear the clothes but you're in front of a digital screen that allows you to put on Barbie's clothes virtually. It's very modern, there's a lot of modern technology but of course it's a lot to do with beautifying yourself and that's the problem we have with it.
How surprised were you that the "Barbie Dreamhouse" decided that the first European capital they were going to build in would be Berlin? To me it seems a bit of an anachronism?
It's actually funny because Germany is renowned for being a critical country where mothers try to resist Barbie longer than any other country, where we try to raise ecological children and are not so into consumer culture. But then Berlin is a city where land is very cheap at the moment. So if you want to have 2,005 square meters for a big dolls house then it's quite easy to do it in Berlin at the moment.
You are leading the campaign and I've been reading in the newspapers that the police are now having to guard the house because they are so scared of feminists like you who are against the house. Are you planning on being violent later?
No, we are not, not at all. Basically we have a press stand in front of the house, with folders and journalists from Berlin who all find it incredibly damaging to girls' self esteem to have this big house here. Late in the afternoon, there will be a demonstration. But it's not organized by us, we're just supporting it. It's organized by "Occupy Barbie Dream House" and it's going to be very friendly. And we're not trying to scare children away - the children who bought the tickets or parents who bought the tickets for today. Of course, we're not going to pester them at all and we want them to have a wonderful day with their children.
It's about raising attention and drawing attention to the fact that girls in Germany continuously feel uncomfortable in their bodies. And there are enough studies on the market, the international market, that Barbie does actually harm children's self esteem.
I was going to ask you about that actually because some doctors in Cologne recently gave Barbie a "health check" and found that if she were real, she wouldn't actually be able to survive?
She would be absolutely unable to live. She would be very ill, she would be anorexic and she wouldn't have the hormones to have children. And she would have osteoporosis and she would have arthritis. And she wouldn't be able to walk upright basically. Now, of course, you can say it's just a doll. But there are enough studies on the market that actually say that girls who play with this doll have lesser self esteem and they actually compare themselves to very thin supermodels. And it's actually not only girls that play with Barbie, of course. But in general, we have too many images of very, very skinny and "photoshopped" images of perfect bodies in public, in the advertising world and Barbie is just a part of that.
What is the particular problem with pink, and why is it so ubiquitous these days?
Actually we don't have a problem with the color pink at all. It's not that pink makes you ill or something, it's just that pink has been designated the color for children, for girls, since the 1930s really. And it's not as if they naturally come to this world and want to play with things that are pink. It's just that they're surrounded by toys that are all in pink and they all signal the same message, they all say the same thing: "beautify yourself, be pretty, desire to be desired". Whereas in the boys toys world, it's about exploration and getting dirty and having fun.
So it's not really about the color. It should really be not that pink stinks, but "pinkification stinks". But that's, of course, too long and too complicated. But what we are saying is that children are being "pinkified" these days, it is gender apartheid really. We're telling children "boys you can't play with pink things, because pink is for girls and if you do play with them, well then you might…'turn gay', or not be considered a proper man" and that's the problem we have with it.
I think it also plays in to changing gender roles. We have only had feminism for the last 60 years, or so, and it's basically that people are insecure. And so we're searching for answers - what is it to be a modern man or a modern woman? And, of course, if the marketing world provides a complete image which also draws on our insecurities, which draws on the stories we've heard from our grandparents and ancestors, on the fairy tales which we've told for generations, then we think, "oh this is natural, that is how it should be" and that is why it works.
Dr Stevie Schmiedel is a lecturer in Gender Studies and chairperson of the "Pink Stinks" Germany campaign. http://pinkstinks.de/ Dr Schmiedel was at the Berlin protests on 16 May when the house opened.
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