Those passing by Berlin in the next three months will no doubt want to stop in to admire the city’s latest tourist destination: Barbie’s Dream House. The attraction is billed as the first-ever touring life-size Barbie house: a phrase that will strike fear into the hearts of a swathe of the world’s parents with girls under 8.
With no windows, but with a giant pink stiletto-shaped slide, touchscreens and no doubt a houseful of merchandising, it’s a celebration of all things pink, fluffy and stereotypically ’girly’ – which is exactly what its detractors object to.
The attraction’s opening day on May 16 saw protests outside from the Occupy Dream House movement and from UK campaign group Pinkstinks. Founded in 2008 by sisters Abi and Emma Moore, Pinkstinks aims to confront what they call “the damaging messages that bombard girls though toys, clothes and media. Girls’ products overwhelmingly focus on being pretty, passive and obsessed with shopping, fashion and make up – this promotes a dangerously narrow definition of what it means to be a girl.”
Those who follow the kids’ marketing sector will know that recent years have seen growing concern and frustration among Western parents concerned about what they see as the toy industry’s myopic view of young girls. While Barbie has long been criticised by its critics for presenting unhelpful feminine stereotypes, traditionally more gender-neutral brands such as LEGO have also come under fire – witness the uproar on social media when the latter launched its LEGO Friends range in late 2011.
The issue won’t be easy to resolve. Brands targeting pre-school and tweenage girls know that pink, ‘feminised’ versions of toys, games and even technology are almost guaranteed to appeal to a large chunk of their demographic, and are understandably unwilling to wager their bottom line on ranges that may have greater parent pull but lower kid appeal. Meanwhile, though, social media has provided concerned consumers with historically unparalleled access to other parents, and pressure is mounting on leading brands to take a stand.
With both sides appearing to be settled in for the long haul, it’s likely to be a bloody and protracted battle.