Barbie Craftivism 2018
So, following on from last year’s Barbie Craftvism workshop which you can view here,
it was time to do it all over again. After sending my husband out to acquire as many dolls as he could find, this was my haul.
This session is part of a Level 6 module called Body Politics here at LJMU Sociology, of which I am very honoured to be module leader of this year. The module belongs to Dr Kay Standing who is currently on research sabbatical.
The idea of the workshop is that is forms the seminar part of my Beauty Myth lecture. The dolls are a way to protest against normative values and dominant discourses of beauty and prescribed gendered behavior.
I laid the materials out prior to the lecture beginning, and allowed the students time to get into groups, select their materials, and begin their creations. I also provided poster paper in order that the students might write their doll’s story, or explain the narrative behind their creations.
It was fascinating to walk around the room, and see what was going on! Heads being pulled off, limbs everywhere, notes being made, post-it notes stuck onto bodies, messages scrawled onto torsos, paint, glue, doll clothes everywhere and our one pair of communal scissors (don’t ask!).
I always fear that students will think “why are we playing with dolls” but everyone engaged and had a valuable contribution.
One of my dissertation students made Bisexual Billie. Billie was to make bisexuality visible and to challenge the myths surrounding bisexuality. Megan’s dissertation is in non-conforming sexualities, and I can’t wait to read the finished product.
Sexuality was a theme for another of the groups which include one of my dissertation students Ellie. Their dolls called bell (hooks, obvs) and Peaches seek to disrupt the idea that in lesbian relationships one woman must ‘wear the trousers’, again challenging heteronormative assumptions that are imprinted onto same-sex couples.
Gendered violence was an issue for another of my dissertation students Sophiehannah’s group. Their doll came with a full story, and represented the gendered pains of imprisonment for women which include restrictions of menstrual supplies.
Rape culture and victim-blaming culture was the theme for some groups’ work.
The regulation of women’s dress, from being pressured to conform to standards of sexualized dress, to being criticized for being ‘too’ sexy/’slutty’ also featured in the work of some groups.
The idea of excess was explored in the group who created Scouse Barbie. The idea that a woman is too excessive, or she has ‘let herself go’: she cannot win. I have written about the excessive scouse woman before here.
This is an idea also explored by another group who looked at the myths that brunette women face for being ‘boring’ and not ‘sexy’ enough.
The idea that beauty should be what a woman dictates, and that some women reject these normative standards and still celebrate themselves was depicted by this group:
This group demonstrated that not only is a matter of ‘our body our choice’, but ‘our face our choice’. Whether we choose to consume and enjoy make-up and beauty products or not. This was an interesting thread throughout the session, of agency/structure.
The example that beauty as currency discounts many people, and the unrealistic image of Barbie herself was demonstrated by this group:
This student’s doll represented a celebration and resistance of accepted gendered beauty practices and behaviours. This doll also represented being a warrior/Goddess from another time and place. That all beauty and gendered norms are culturally located.
The most poignant doll for me was this one. The group of students used their doll to express some of the insults and gendered comments they have experienced. I think she brilliantly illustrates how normalized and accepted it is to make unwarranted comments to women about their appearance/ childbearing ability. Resistance can occur in the smallest of acts. This doll is very powerful.
I think we can take this much further than Liverpool John Moores Sociology. Share your dolls, or your comments on our dolls, using the hashtag ljmubarbie. Give me a tweet at @princessjack and share the conversation. Share your doll or your ideas on the dolls on Facebook and Instagram, and expand and continue the discussion.
Sociology should be for the everyday. It should be for when you’re queueing in a shop, walking the dog, in work, in the toilets on a drunken night out, when you’re with your family. Sociology is the everyday. Talking about Sociology with members of the public beats talking about theory at a conference any day of the week.
For students: you might not think you are using your Sociology degree once you graduate if you go into an unrelated field. But you honestly will! Go forth and start with Barbie!
Thank you to all of my students for taking part, and thank you as always to Liverpool John Moores Sociology department for being such a creative place to work.