My Fantasy Goddess Is Not A Barbie Doll
This holiday season, Mattel, the world biggest toy maker is poised to embarrass itself and enrage Asians across the globe, with the release of its latest collectible Barbie: The Fantasy Goddess of Asia. Designed by Bob Mackie in a fit of laziness, ignorance, cynicism or all three, the doll is a mishmash of racist stereotypes of Asian womenan Oriental Flower/Dragon Lady hybrid.
She sure isnt my fantasy goddessor even what Id guess to be Mattels version of such. The $6.3 billion global giant, with primary manufacturing facilities in China, Indonesia, and Malaysia, should know better. In the past feminists have slammed Barbiewho makes up a whopping 40% of the companys salesfor being a poor role model. Today, the toy store shelves are crammed with WNBA Barbies, honoring (in that Barbie way) strong, accomplished American women. That Asian women, a diverse and growing population many of whom are in fact manufacturing Mattel toys, are depicted with retrograde, stereotyped images is all the more striking in contrast.
American soldiers, back from wars in Asia, brought home the idea that Asian women were utterly feminine, delicate, and submissiveOriental Flowersthe perfect antidote to loud, independent, American women. That idea has been enshrined in popular movies and plays such as Madame Butterfly. But always running parallel to this image of Asian women has been the myth of the Dragon Ladythe Asian dominatrix who selfishly destroys the worlds best loved pop band (Yoko Ono) or is a cold-blooded litigation hungry vixen (Ling on Ally McBeal). In recent years, hundreds of prominent Asian and Asian American women, from the human rights advocate Aung San Suu Kyi and the writer Arundhati Roy to the model Jenny Shimizu and the skater Kristi Yamaguchi (along with the growing Asian American feminist movement) have shown the lie behind these images. And the publishing, entertainment, and news media industries have been shaken by them. But not Mattel.
For Mattels doll is a mockery of Asian femininity, and calling it a goddess is an affront to the very notion of divinity. The doll is the first in the new International Beauty collection, which according to Mattel is designed to celebrate worldwide beauty in [a] dramatic fantasy style. Yet, this dolls attire is not from any recognizable Asian culture. She wields fans decorated with dragons, her black hair twirling serpentine above her head, her strange Barbie body tightly wrapped in a long, western-style beaded gown. No actual Asian woman (or goddess, for that matter) whose beauty this series is meant to celebrate, looks or dresses even remotely like the Fantasy Goddess of Asia. And there are literally hundreds of Asian goddessesfrom the Royal Kumari to Kali, whom the doll could have been modeled after. Which brings one to wonder, whose fantasy of an Asian goddess is this? And, more lasciviously, what kind of goddess are we talking about here?
Priced at $250, the Fantasy Goddess of Asia is not meant for kids, but for adult collectors, who buy and sell Mackie-designed Barbie dolls for thousands of dollars. In a sense, that makes it worse, for of course it is adults who patronize the mail-order bride business and participate in the international sex trafficking of Asian womentwo exploitative industries that capitalize on mens misguided fantasies about Asian women. Plus, while Mattel attempts to captivate people with its fantasy of Asian women, back in the real world, Asian women and girls are toiling in Mattel factories, for just 2$ a day in Indonesia, according to Dateline, and for 84-hour-weeks in China, according to the Wall Street Journal.
The irony is not lost on Manavi, a South Asian domestic violence organization based in New Jersey that has launched a campaign to stop production of the doll. It seems likely that Asian American feminists and their allies, who cite Asian goddesses as inspiration and symbol, will sign on with enthusiasm. Especially today, when Asian women and girls are experiencing perhaps the most widespread and profound suffering of recent years, it shouldnt pay to demean us.