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Primary Sources: Ruth Handler: Staying Home Wasn't in My Makeup
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In her memoir, the California woman who co-founded Mattel and brought the world an iconic doll reflected on her own choices about balancing work and family.

I'm sure you've heard some of the criticism that's been lobbed at Barbie in the last several years. Barbie cares only about clothes. Barbie's "mind" is filled only with Saturday-night dates and/or wedding plans. My response is if that is so, it's because the little girl who is playing with her chooses to concentrate on those facets of a woman's life.

Unlike play with a baby doll -- in which a little girl is pretty much limited to assuming the role of Mommy -- Barbie has always represented the fact that a woman has choices. Even in her early years Barbie did not have to settle for being only Ken's girlfriend or an inveterate shopper, She had the clothes, for example, to launch a career as a nurse, a stewardess, a nightclub singer. I believe that the choices Barbie represents helped the doll catch on initially, not just with daughters -- who would one day make up the first major wave of women in management and the professions -- but also with their mothers, who absolutely flipped over Barbie when she was introduced. Most of these mothers were confined to a rigidly prescribed existence epitomized by [TV character] June Cleaver. And most were pleased with the idea that their daughters could play with -- aspire with -- a doll who had many more choices in life than adult women had at that time.

There's a great irony in all this: My own daughter wanted me to be... June Cleaver... As a child, Barbara longed for an "ordinary" life. Her definition of such a life included a mother who was always available, always home. And though I dearly loved my children -- each was a planned-for and very wanted baby -- and made them my first priority, the staying home part just wasn't in my makeup.


Excerpt from Ruth Handler with Jacqueline Shannon, Dream Doll: The Ruth Handler Story. Stamford, CT: Longmeadow Press, 1994, pp.43-44.



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