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Maker of Barbie Tries Its Hand at Feminism, and Fails

A legal judgment just handed toymaker Mattel’s derriere back to them, biblically, if I may say so. And well done.

Here’s what happened: A Bollywood film, starring normal-human-actor-mom-wife-yet-always-known-as-porn-star Sunny Leone, has a song called “Barbie Girl.” Mattel, who makes the Barbie doll, promptly filed suit against the film, alleging that the title and lyrics were used without Mattel’s permission and, “in a manner antagonistic to the values and interests of the customers’ target base.”

It is also said that Mattel objected to “the actress featuring in the song (Sunny Leone), as she is a prominent figure from adult entertainment industry and such attributes are provocative and inappropriate for younger girls and children, tarnishing and degrading the distinctive quality of the mark that Barbie holds.”

Quality of the mark? You mean ‘Made in China’, Mattel? You manufacture a doll that messes with little girls’ heads for years, ignoring parents’ and activists’ pleas to make it more realistic, issued a “Doctor Barbie” or “Professional Barbie” as a band-aid, and only changed the doll’s dimensions because sales were falling.

My face mirrored the Delhi High Court judge’s (I imagine) with a thought bubble saying, ‘O RLY.’ Justice Endlaw, before laughing Mattel out of court, borrowed from the United States Court of Appeals judgement in a similar decision that basically amounted to: ‘Y’all need to chill.’

In the midst of screen-printing ‘Y’all need to chill’ on non-pink T-shirts next to an outline of the Venus of Willendorf, I remembered that Mattel has filed suit over its Barbie IP many times before: suing the band Aqua for their ’90s-bachelorette-party anthem, as well as various other artists, authors and other auteurs who referenced the Barbie doll – a product meant for purchase and use as you see fit as long as Mattel got your money.

All in an effort to show us that Mattel is “only thinking about the children.”

Well, if you were, Mattel, then how come Barbie’s proportions didn’t really changed for more than 50 years? Or her race? Or her pseudo-aspirational lifestyle and accessories, all meant to reinforce harmful stereotypes about women?

The irony, of course, is that Sunny Leone is a better role model for girls than Barbie will ever be. If one woman in this legal tussle had to be designated as “inappropriate for younger girls and children,” it would most certainly not be the financially independent entrepreneur, feminist icon and new mother.

Go home, Mattel. And take your lawyers, your outdated parody of a real woman, and faux parental concern with you.

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