Melissa’s Wild Ride

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The “Barbie Jeep” illustrates a puzzling ideological intersection between a feminine and a masculine stereotype. Barbie is (obviously) full of controversial female ideology. She teaches young girls that shopping and hanging out with Ken are the best ways to spend your free time. Not to mention, she represents (scientifically impossible) physical perfection. If Barbie were a real woman, she would “stands about six feet tall with a 39″ bust, 18″ waist, and 33″ hips” (Galia Slayen, Huffington Post). On the other hand, the “Jeep” is more commonly associated with masculine activities : driving off-road through huge mud puddles, hunting, and causing a general ruckus. Even Indiana Jones, the rugged, masculine, adventure-seeking archeologist, drives a jeep!

I think the “designed use” of the Barbie Jeep attempts to find a middle ground between these two gendered images while also “[upholding] adult conceptions of childhood” (Griffin). Despite the Jeep’s masculine connotations, the design of the “Barbie Jeep” reinforces stereotypical images of girlhood. Young girls are encouraged to bring a friend along for the ride, and the back of the Jeep includes a storage area for toys and snacks. Everything about the Jeep’s “designed use,” even down to its bright pink coloration and Barbie decals, paint an innocent image of Barbie and her friend taking a drive to the beach. However, with its fully operational steering and breaking systems, the Barbie Jeep also mimics some of the more “real” (and arguably more “manly”) freedoms associated with driving a car. Even these “real” freedoms have their limitations though. Due to parental safety concerns, the recommended age group for Barbie Jeep users is between 3 and 6, and its maximum speed is 5mph.

Insert this kid:

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One of the most vivid memories I have from my elementary school years is my little sister Melissa behind the wheel of her Barbie Jeep.  She received the Jeep for Christmas and terrorized the streets of my neighborhood in the years that followed. It didn’t take Melissa very long to realize that she could increase the 5mph maximum speed by starting her course at the top of our steep driveway, stepping on the pedal, and zooming down the street. The stunts didn’t stop there. Melissa became so adept behind the wheel that she could spin the mini vehicle in a “donut,” slamming the breaks and cranking the wheel at exactly the right time. But by far her most impressive stunt was the legendary Barbie Jeep Somersault. One afternoon, as I sat on the grass and watched, Melissa (with her neighborhood sidekick in the passenger seat) put the Barbie Jeep in reverse and proceeded to creep backwards down the driveway. The Jeep gained momentum and started to speed out of control. In the blink of an eye, I watched the Barbie Jeep (and its stunned occupants) complete a 360 degree revolution. The vehicle balanced on its crossbar for a moment before landing at the base of the driveway on all four wheels. Melissa and her friend sat there in disbelief and then burst into laughter. I couldn’t believe what I had seen (and neither could my mother, who made Melissa wear a helmet in the Barbie Jeep from that day on).

In my opinion, Melissa’s “use” of the Barbie Jeep seems to diverge considerably from the product’s “designed use.” I spoke with my sister and asked her how she felt about the Jeep. Melissa explained that at the time, she could care less that the Jeep was a “Barbie” product – she had a NEED for SPEED. As Griffin notes, “A child’s ability to use objects created by the dominant hegemonic system in defiance of adult standards acts as a point of ‘negotiation’ or even ‘resistance.’” Melissa resisted the dominant hegemonic system when she learned to start at the top of the driveway and increase the Jeep’s speed. Like the female children who used the “ ‘Crockett Craze’ to break out of their engendered roles and spaces,” Melissa used a product that was aimed specifically toward her age and gender group to essentially test the boundaries of this group and feel a rush of adrenaline. Melissa explained that in her eyes, the Barbie Jeep “was just a big car that [she] could drive around in.”

As a newly licensed driver, hopefully Melissa will practice safer driving habits 😉

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3 thoughts on “Melissa’s Wild Ride

  1. I was just curious about your parents role in the use of the Jeep. In Griffen’s article he talks about how parents structured supervised activities for their kids (i.e. boys/girls scout and little league baseball) so that they could make sure their kids weren’t playing in the sandlot or street games and get hit by a car or harmed by a pothole. Was the Jeep for your sister a way to “get away” from adult supervision and drive into other parts of the neighborhood?

  2. Do you think the Barbie Jeep, in and of itself, is a way of acknowledging that girls want “masculine” products — but dressing it in a gender-appropriate costume so as to make everyone involved feel okay about its purchase?

  3. As for my parents role in Melissa’s use of the Jeep, they were pretty relaxed about it until they discovered she was driving recklessly. It wasn’t necessarily a way for her to escape supervision since she spent most of the time right outside our house. However, I think getting away with her crazy stunts (with the constant chance of getting caught) may have been part of the thrill for her.

    I definitely think the Barbie Jeep is a way of dressing a “masculine” product in a “feminine” costume. I think its a fair assumption to say that a lot of young girls (myself and my sisters included) are not content with indoor, girly activities like baking and playing dolls. We spent most of our time outside playing sports, roller blading, and romping around with the other neighborhood kids. My parents were aware that we preferred to play outdoors, and they actually supported this desire because it kept us away from TV and computer games. In purchasing the Barbie Jeep for my sister, my parents were encouraging this tendency toward outdoor play. Though my parents would never have bought my 6 year old sister an ATV, the Barbie Jeep was an acceptably girly (and safer) alternative. In the end, she used the Barbie Jeep for more masculine purposes, defeating its feminine design.

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