Barbie Rules the South
In other parts of the country, I get the impression that Barbie-women are passed over for darker, more exotic Halle-Barry-type beauties. But in the South, Queen Barbie reigns supreme.
My only memory of playing with a Barbie doll is turning my bicycle upside down so that it balanced on its handle bars and seat, then turning the pedals to make the back tire spin as fast as I could get it to go, and then I took wicked delight in holding Barbie's face to the spinning tire, making horrid black rubber smudges on her perfect features.
The most popular Barbie-girl in my class was Cindy. Not only was she physically perfect, with her long, curling blonde hair and wide blue eyes, but she was also sweet. Though not the brightest crayon in the box, in her Barbieness, she set two levels of unattainable femininity: no matter how pretty I was, I could not be as pretty as she and no matter how nice I tried to be, I'd never be as wholesome and sweet. No one cared if she was stupid, they worshipped at her tiny Barbie feet. And in my adolescent awkwardness grew the seeds of self-doubt as I was faced with a Barbie doll I couldn't deface with my bicycle tire and one I couldn't really even hate enough to want to.
I thought I escaped Barbie when I married and had children. Indeed, she ceased to be the Ideal to strive for, but she was replaced with a new unattainable stereotype: the June-Carol-Laura woman, the personification of every sit-com wife/mother. These women, though not as pretty or sweet as Barbie, mocked me with their June Cleaver maternal sensitivity, their Carol Brady organization skills and their Laura Petry sense of style. Their homes looked like a magazine spread, tastefully decorated and not the least bit smudged or smeared by the clean hands of their angelic offspring. Once more I felt myself falling short of the mark.
After my divorce, I gave the raspberry to June-Carol-Laura and became a career woman. I was, for the first time, sure of who I wanted to be and she was not a doll or a TV character. She was an intelligent, accomplished woman who did and said important things, who knew things and wasn't afraid to let people know it. I was happy.
Until I moved back to Texas and ran smack into both stereotypes full force, alive and well here in Dixieland.
In the workplace, a woman can go far...provided she's perky and petite. She need not even be smart, as long as she is like Barbie. Barbie is an authority of her own, predicated on nothing more than her Barbie-ness.
To make matters worse, while Career Barbie brought my adolescent neuroses out into the workplace, I discovered that, down here in Good Ol' Boys' country, career women aren't relieved of their June-Carol-Laura duties in the least! It's one thing for women to protest these stereotypes and point out that it's impossible to stay a size 5, keep your face frozen at age 28, birth children, enjoy a fulfilling career, and maintain a Better Homes and Gardens household, but it's another thing entirely when you are faced with real life women who actually do it!
One day I attended a baby shower for a Barbie co-worker who sweetly gushed and coo'd over her gifts and then led us through her immaculate home to show us the baby's room, which had all been prepared and decorated with Noah's Ark characters and clever little hand-painted stenciled trim along the walls. This child was no bigger than a peanut and already it had a bedroom more stylish and lovely than any I'd ever seen. As Barbie extended her graceful hand to pet the obedient cocker spaniel at her feet (I had a cocker spaniel once, she had a defective bladder. She pissed all over everything, all the time. Clearly no dog of Barbie's would ever be so gauche as to urinate on the carpet.), she tossed her blonde hair off of one shoulder and rewarded us all with a dazzling smile before inviting us into the breakfast room to sample some of the lemon tarts she'd made that morning.
And I wondered how difficult it might be to trick her into holding her face against my car tire while I hit the gas.