The socialization of young women in our culture occurs through many institutions and by means of numerous materialistic items. The familial institution is crucial to how a young woman perceives herself and the world, but her peer group, school, and toys all play a role into her view of what is right and wrong, and how she should proceed in society. These societal norms of what girls can and can’t do or even should and shouldn’t do begins in the womb. From birth, we tend to socialize women into being feminine, obedient, and knowing their place in the world. A baby girl’s room is decorated pink. A young girl plays with dolls and wears dresses and skirts. If she doesn’t like those things, and would prefer toy cars, legos, and to wear pants, it is immediately made known to her that there is a label for girls like that: tomboys. Young women are consistently told that they perform tasks “like a girl”, especially when it comes to sports. Earlier this year, the brand Always produced a video that talks to girls about the phrase “like a girl.” The video quickly went viral, and now sits at around 50 million views on YouTube.
The video strikes a chord for many people, including myself. Of course I run like a girl, hit like a girl, throw like a girl…. I am a girl. When did doing things like a girl become an insult? A problem for society? I will also one day help to continue the human race…like a girl.
In the Middle East, women are similarly socialized, although they are more highly affected by religion and the characteristics that come along with their religion. Especially in the Muslim world, little girls are taught to become well-rounded in house duties, like cooking and cleaning. There are several ways that these are brought into a little girl’s life. The most prominent one is by imitation. If she sees her mother and the other female role models in her life doing these chores, she will readily imitate, especially between the ages of 4 and 7. Toys are also used to show girls that the societal norms are right and should be modeled after. Barbies and other dolls are extremely popular in the United States and have been for quite a long time. I remember going to the store with my mom and asking to get a Barbie, and after she said yes, I had to pick out exactly which Barbie I wanted because there are so many to choose from. Do you pick Malibu Barbie or lawyer Barbie? Each one teaches you a little something new about how you’re supposed to perform in the world. However, in the Middle East, fashion Barbies have swiftly been replaced over the past decade with Muslim fashion dolls. The most prominent doll is Fulla (seen below) who comes with a hijab, an abaya, and a prayer rug. Her narrative is quite different than Barbie’s and that is half the reason why Muslim parents prefer Fulla. She is single, unlike Barbie who relies on her boyfriend Ken. Fulla is focused on friends, education, and family.
In an article from the University of Illinois, a very important quote stuck in my mind and is a very important socialization tactic when it comes to dolls.
“Typically, when a girl plays with a baby doll, she pretends to be the doll’s mother.
However, when a girl plays with fashion dolls such as Barbie or Fulla, she usually “becomes” the doll.”
It is important to remember how these simple toys can greatly affect the minds of our young people, especially our girls who are very quickly shoved into a proverbial box at an early age. We also need to stay mindful of how different cultures feed into the developing notions our girls have about their place in this world.
I’ll leave you with one last thought that occurred to me after some of my research: I’m curious if Fulla’s body shape is any different than Barbie? In America, Barbie is frequently criticized for have an unrealistic body shape (If she were a real person, her feet would be too small to support her and her boobs would make her topple over). Because curves are more highly accepted in the Middle East, I wonder if Fulla is curvier than the American Barbie.