Barbie Enlists

Military women have often endured a negative public image.

Until recently, women who joined the military acted counter to cultural expectations of their appropriate place in society as girlfriends, wives and mothers. As a result, male military personnel and civilians frequently stereotyped servicewomen as masculine, morally loose and worst of all—incapable of attracting a man to marry.

The Mattel Corporation’s Barbie® doll experienced negative press of a different sort. Criticized for excessive emphasis on clothing, exaggerated physical attributes and empty-headedness, Barbie® has, nonetheless, served as a leader in career paths for young women. She has held at least 80 jobs since her debut in 1959, was the first woman astronaut in 1965, and ran for president in 2000.

In 1989, Barbie® joined the Army; in 1990, the Air Force. A year later, she joined the Navy and then, in 1992, the Marines. Her uniforms—ranging from battle dress uniform (BDU) to formal military dress—were approved by the Pentagon.

And while her accessories do not include a fighter jet, she does own a jeep, and her presence in the US Armed Forces validates the acceptance and the importance of women in the military to millions of young women.

During the 1990s, the average American girl between the ages of three and 10, owned eight Barbie® dolls.