Maker of Barbie Tries Its Hand at Feminism, and Fails


Nov 30, 2017


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.


Written By Akhila Vijaykumar

Akhila Vijaykumar is a writer with experience across advertising and journalism. Occasionally, the crossover does make her demand truth from soap and try to cajole quotes into starbursts, but no harm no foul. She loves books by Terry Pratchett, dogs and pizza, often at the same time.

  1. Amreetaa

    The writer perhaps is not a mother….if u type barbie on phone…u definitely don’t want to see ms. Leone or her pics that may be very much empowering to this pseudo feminist writer but definitely not appropriate for all audience….just to remind this writer- cum-sunny leone PR agent that ms. Leone is a proven pathetic actor nd none of her films are hit…slamned by critics as well as rejected in box office she is still sustaining for reasons best known to branding nd media…. she is an average dancer so giving so much attention to her is injustice to all tbose hard-working struggling,trained and even award winning actresses who gets no media hype…why discriminate ms. Leone then?? Obviously for her highly paying Marketing team as well as TRP…..it has neither connection to women empowerment nor any sanskaar…both extreme right nd left wings are equally damaging in drawing conclusions

  2. Shrewti

    The awesome mother who has commented above should set a google alert or blockers to ‘protect’ her children from the ‘harms’ of the Internet. Also if the mother has bought her child a barbie then the whole point of being 1) gender educated and 2) body positivity is Clearly lost on her so typing sunny leone or barbie ( in this case) on the internet doesn’t matter really cause the damage is already done. Be a parent to your children and teach them your screwed up morality. No point mudslinging a self made woman. I would go in to say if Mattel promoters had any brains they would want to be associated with cultural feminist icons instead they have to now contend with an adjective that is synonymous with ‘airhead’- barbie 😂

  3. Sathya

    Cultural feminist? Sunny leone…all are commercial beings whether it is Mattel or Sunny… both remain unrequired for children…there are manu worthy self made women to inspire children …comparing self made women with sunny leone is a shame…. every self made person has to face a lot of struggle to be where they are but the difference in the best and the bad is the path they choose to take….. short cuts win easy not a big deal … admire women who reallu made it truely in most ethical and decent manner…sunny leone is jus a pesudo feminist trying to rebrand her image…while there are 1000s of hardworking corporate women icons who are worth showcasing case study to children.


Leave a Comment

Your email address will not be published. Required fields *.

The latest in health, gender & culture in India -- and why it matters. Delivered to your inbox weekly.