Mattel Doesn't Need to Tell Me It's OK to Play Barbie With My Daughter

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Mattel has released a series of advertisements that showcase dads (big, burly guys who are the manliest of manly men) playing Barbie with their daughters. 

As CNET wrote, the campaign kicked off Sunday evening in the middle of the NFL’s AFC title game between the Steelers and the Patriots, probably because the toy company wanted the stereotypical men who were downing pizza and beer to stop cheering concussion-causing collisions for 30 seconds and see that it’s totally OK to play dolls with your daughter when nobody else is watching.

Here are a few examples: Notice the beards and the flannel shirts.

It’s actually a great tagline (“Time spent in her imaginary world is an investment in her real world”) because it’s true. And it’s great for dads to be reminded to play with their kids in general.

But today’s dads don’t need your pat on the back for playing with dolls, because this isn’t the 1950s when we abandon the house and the family every night for beers with the buds at the bar or to throw gutters down at the bowling alley. No, we play Barbie and we make dinner and we wash dishes and we give baths and we read bedtime stories.

It’s interesting that Mattel’s ad dropped Sunday night, the day after women’s marches across the world made history with their nonviolent protest. The coverage across the media landscape described the solidarity felt by the attendees, and it showcased the powerful message millions of women and moms (and yes, dads too) can make when they show up in large groups to exercise their First Amendment rights.

But there was also this New York Times piece that featured the husbands of the women who marched and how they were dealing with the fallout. The stories focused on the fathers of Montclair, New Jersey, who had to schlep their kids around town and plan playdates while their wives went marching in New York City. And hey, it was a nice story, and I imagine many of those fathers didn’t think they were doing anything special. 

But this passage struck some as strange, especially the use of the word “irony.”

As a father, this wasn’t especially offensive to me (in part, because as a fellow sports writer, I greatly respect Politi’s work), but it does seem rather silly.

Since my job is flexible, I drive my kids to their afterschool activities (gymnastics, dance class, Boy Scouts, Girl Scouts, etc.), and sometimes, I’m the only dad around (though, to be fair, I live in a liberal-minded city where there are plenty of dads who do the chauffeuring).

But nobody pats me on the back for being there. Nobody says what a great dad I am because I’m putting my daughter’s hair in a ponytail before she heads off to tumble on the gym mats or because I make sure she has her ballet shoes AND her tap shoes in her dance bag before we leave class. Why would they?

I’m a parent, and it’s part of my parenting responsibilities. It’s why I play My Little Pony with my daughter (she never lets me be Pinkie Pie or Rainbow Dash, which is, quite literally, horseshit). It’s why I wrestle with my son. It’s why I help with their homework and take her around the neighborhood to sell Girl Scout cookies. 

I do it because I’m not a babysitter when my wife is out of the house. It’s because I’m a parent who lives in 2017. It’s because I’m a dad who sometimes likes playing Barbie with his daughter, and, no matter how well-intentioned the commercials were, I don’t need Mattel reminding me that it’s OK to be exactly that.



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