Necessity is the Mother of Invention

Necessity is the Mother of Invention

Easter 23


Since 1959 the doll has been a necessary item in almost every little girl’s toy box.  Children have been playing with dolls for centuries and artifacts resembling such have been found in the most ancient of archaeological sites.  Many were thought to be idols but as more and more artifacts have been discovered it is quote apparent that playing with dolls is not a new thing for children.


The psychology of playing with dolls has been researched for almost as long as children have been playing with them.  In 2009 Elise Abramson researched one of the world’s most popular dolls, the Barbie.  Her project was titled “Barbie Brains: The Effect of Barbie Dolls on Girls’ Perception of Male and Female Jobs”.  The adult-looking doll has long been blamed for discouraging little girls to break out of gender roles historically limited to women.  Abramson sought to quantify such claims.


Abramson’s opening concept was simple.  “Since her creation in 1959, Barbie has been a popular toy for young girls in the U.S. In 1998, on average, girls in the U.S. owned eight of these dolls and approximately two were purchased every second somewhere in the world (Turkel, 1998). With all of her popularity and the persistent part she plays in many girls’ lives, little research has yet been be done on whether she might have a harmful effect on the development of the girls who love her.”


The experiment to determine the research was simple.  “In this experiment, 16 three to eight-year-old girls from the Corvallis area came to our lab with one of their parents. After having the child play with either a Barbie Doll or a control toy for five minutes, the experimenter orally administered a questionnaire designed to assess activation of gender stereotypes about jobs and self-perceived ability related to future career ability. The main hypothesis was that after playing with Barbie, girls would be more stereotypical during a picture task. The secondary hypothesis predicted that girls who played with Barbie would say that they could do fewer careers in a question task. Results were insignificant for the main hypothesis and the secondary hypothesis.”


Playing with dolls offers children a chance to interact in pretend situations without the consequences of mistakes.  They also enable a child to examine events that might have been painful.  The motor skills involved with speaking to and for the inanimate toy as well as the motor skills involved in dressing and playing with the doll are extremely beneficial in a child’s development.


Ruth Handler noticed her daughter Barbara playing with paper dolls as if they were her real friends.  She preferred the paper dolls to her baby dolls after reaching the age of five.  Paper dolls tore easily, however, and had a very short shelf life.  Ruth wanted a more substantial doll for her daughter.  She saw a German doll on a trip to Europe and decided to convince her husband to make one.


Ruth Handler was the daughter of Polish-Jewish immigrants.  She married and moved to California where her husband decided to furnish their home with inexpensive self-made furniture out of two new forms of plastic – Plexiglas and Lucite.  He began a company to manufacture such and Ruth as the only sales person soon signed large contracts with Douglas Aircraft Company and others in the industry.


Elliott Handler and his partner Harold Mattson liked the doll that Ruth wanted made and had named Barbie after her daughter.  They formed a company for producing the doll and named it after themselves –“Matt” for Mattson and “El” for Elliott.  It is estimated that one Barbie doll, which is sold in over one hundred and fifty countries worldwide, is purchased every two minutes.


The Barbie doll first produced in 1959 has undergone many changes.  This year Barbie dolls that feature curvier bodies and different skin tones will be available.  Marketing has lessened the “cute” emphasis and sought to encourage girls to think outside the typical box in accomplishing their dreams.  Ruth Handler certainly did.

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