Politics & Gamers & Olympic Gymnasts, Oh My! Mattel Pushes Barbie Into Role Model Territory


While many people were getting excited at the thought of an all-female ticket with Hillary Clinton and her speculated Vice Presidential pick in Massachusetts Senator Elizabeth Warren as they spent time on the campaign trail together, we can at least rest assured that young girls will get to grow up being familiar with the concept thanks to Mattel’s latest Barbie pairing.

President Barbie has had a few incarnations in the past, but this is the first time she is getting a Vice President to complete her ticket. And since the US does have a precedent for a same-gender Presidential ticket, this new Barbie is certainly not as far fetched as one might think.

The duo was created for a specific purpose – to inspire leadership in girls. Michelle Chidoni, global brand communications VP at Mattel explained in a press statement that although the Barbie Presidential duo are non-partisan and are not an endorsement of Hillary Clinton, they want girls to grow up visualizing what leadership looks like.

“This is a celebration of showing girls they can do anything, including being president of the United States. As a brand, we always like to be timely and topical. This execution is allowing us to have a meaningful conversation about women and leadership,” she said.


The idea partly came about after a study from the Girl Scouts Research Institute which found that only 39% of girls want to be a leader, and 68% of girls don’t feel encouraged to pursue careers as politicians. They knew this was an opportunity to leverage the Barbie brand as a way to change that number. Since it is a political election, they wanted to tap into the idea of women in political leadership to add an extra element to this new Barbie.

One of the women on Mattel’s global advisory board is Erin Loos Cutraro, cofounder and CEO of She Should Run. They are a non-partisan organization that encourages women to run for public office and it became a very synergistic opportunity for Mattel. Part of their marketing strategy was to give a Barbie all-female ticket duo to every woman in Congress in the hope they would gift it to a young girl in their life to inspire them to take up a position of leadership in their lives.

Michelle Chidoni explained that due to falling sales from 2012 to early 2016, they have been looking at their entire range with the intent to become more purposeful about their campaigns and messages. This is certainly one of the re-targeted initiatives to pivot the world’s most popular doll to become a source of inspiration, not superficiality or lack of realism, as they have been accused of in the past.

In an op-ed for Fortune.com, Erin Loos says the more we can normalize women in positions of leadership, the closer will get to the vision of a world of limitless possibility, where electing a female president is seen as “normal” rather than a rare occurrence.


“We can’t expect to find the best solutions to 21st-century challenges when we only have half the population represented at the decision-making table. A healthy and effective democracy needs to include female voices…That’s why She Should Run and Barbie are partnering to deploy the power of visibility,” she writes.

Erin makes it clear that political leadership is not just about the presidency, but every level of government which could benefit from the ideas and perspectives of women.

“We simply cannot afford to give girls the impression that political elections don’t matter, and we certainly don’t want to instill the idea that they—whether individually or as a group—have no power to make things better…We need to reinforce the impact that women can have in leadership positions, particularly the positive change they can make in elected office. And we need to let girls knows that they can redefine what it means to be an elected leader,” she said.

We certainly like the new direction and that it comes with a more bold, empowering take on what it looks like to be a professional woman in the world today. Although Barbie has had more than 150 careers since her inception in 1959, it is only recently that we have seen a definitive shift in the subtle messages that come attached with such a popular toy.

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Before the Presidential ticket Barbie duo were released in June, Mattel made a big move to correct its epic Computer Engineer Barbie blunder where she didn’t have the ability to code and had to rely on “Steven and Brian” to work on a complicated algorithm. Mattel released Game Developer Barbie, which Slate’s Casey Fiesler describes as “awesome”.

This Barbie actually can code, and in her work space there are no pictures of Ken or any fashion magazines, and it is not filled with pink-colored products. It was generally hailed as a win for the toy manufacturer, except in one area: skin color. A couple form Oakland, California, who happen to both be game developers as well as African American, were bummed they couldn’t find the Game Developer Barbie in the darker colors.

Marcus Montgomery decided he would buy a Fashionista Barbie with dark skin, and give it a makeover and present to his wife Lisette Titre-Montgomery. The story went viral, showing just how important it is for consumers to see diversity in the brands they purchase.

“My ultimate goal was to make my wife smile. It was her birthday. She works hard and, like all of us, she feels unrecognized at times. A developer Barbie acknowledged her career of choice. It’s exciting. It’s cool, but both my wife and I realize the importance of representation and it’s something we experience every day,” Marcus told ABC News.



He is the creator of a website called We Are Game Devs which celebrates and promotes diversity within the gaming industry, so both he and his wife are no stranger to the value of representation.

“I think it’s important to see faces that you might not normally see and hopefully find some inspiration from them,” he said.

For those looking for an awesome role model of color, Barbie is set to release a Gabby Douglas doll, inspired by the young Olympic champion gymnast, as a promotion in the lead up to the Rio Olympics later this year where the powerhouse 20 year old athlete will be competing.

Game Developer Barbie, together with Madam President and her female Vice President are finally a step in the right direction in terms of allowing girls to up with a more realistic sense of career aspirations. It’s not that fashion or beauty, two topics more commonly associated with Barbie, are not relevant. They are indeed valid occupations that girls can aspire to. It’s when girls get sold the message that those are stereotypically the only careers they should work toward, that we begin to see a problem.

In conjunction with the Presidential Ticket Barbie duo, Mattel released a video where they interviewed a group of young girls asking them what they would do if they were president. Along with the expected answers regarding free candy and raining dogs, there were some who called for free college, and another who declared she would “be nice to every single person”. Watch below:





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