Marge Piecys Barbie Doll Essay

Marge Piecy’s “Barbie Doll”
Gender Identity in Piercy’s “Barbie Doll” Dolls often give children their
first lessons in what a society considers valuable and beautiful. These dolls
often reveal the unremitting pressure to be young, slim, and beautiful in a
society which values mainly aesthetics. Marge Piercy’s “Barbie Doll”
exhibits how a girl’s childhood is saturated with gender-defined roles and
preconceived norms for how one should behave. In order to convey her thoughts,
the author uses familiar, yet ironic, imagery, as well as uses fluctuating tone
in each stanza to better draw attention to the relevant points of her
contention. The first four lines of “Barbie Doll” are written in a trite,
simplistic tone which represent the normality and basic needs of infancy. It is
at this point in one’s life that a child has no ability to deviate from the
norm, simply because they have no knowledge of it and are completely influenced
by what their parents present them with. The presentation of a doll and an oven,
along with lipstick (1-3), ensure that the girl will know exactly which gender
role she must be. These lines imitate the rigidity in which sexual and gender
roles are defined. The tone of the introductory stanza changes abruptly in line
five when the speaker relates “Then, in the magic of puberty, a classmate
said/ You have a great big nose and fat legs.” What is particularly ironic is
that puberty is referred to as a “magic” time, when really it is a time for
emotional crisis within many children as they struggle to develop their
autonomy. This line is directed in a candid fashion which digresses from the
mildness of the first few lines, rendering it quite more effective than
simplistic speech. The second stanza of “Barbie Doll” starts off as normal
as the first, but easily strays into different meaning. While “She was
healthy, tested intelligent” (7) connotes positive aspects of the girl,
“possessed strong arms and back/ abundant sexual drive and manual dexterity”
connotes an entirely divergent idea. Gender roles always defined the man as”strong” and the woman as “weak,” the man as “skillful with his
hands” and the woman as “skillful with a cookie tin,” and finally, the man
as the “sexual aggressor” while the woman was the “submissive
help-mate.” In lines eight and nine, the girl is identified by the
characteristics typically associated with the male gender, something quite
unusual and completely opposite that of what line seven implies. “She went to
and fro apologizing” (10) conveys that the girl recognizes her traits as
disparaging and dishonorable. The last line of the second stanza again changes
in tone from simple to forthright with the statement “Everyone saw a fat nose
on thick legs”(11). This line re-emphasizes the ugliness of not measuring up
to the standard of an ideal female, a standard set by society. Piercy addresses
the stereotypical manners that women are pressured to perform in the third
stanza when she writes “She was advised to play coy/exhorted to come on
hearty/exercise, diet, smile, and wheedle”(12-14). By advising the girl to act
enthusiastic in response to a man, starve herself to be thin, fake emotions, and
influence men with soft words and flattery, the author makes a general statement
about how women were practically forced to be something whether or not they
wanted to. The words “coy” and “smile” conjure up images of a false
passivity that women must endure, images that help to shape the poem by
providing a better view of what the subject experienced. Line fifteen contains a
reference to a fan belt, an object that, similarly to a person’s “good
nature,” will wear out from use and abuse. The change in tone is repeated once
again as the author switches from mild lines about personality to a dramatic
line in which an analogy is made to represent an internal change in the
character’s mentality. With the beginning of the last stanza of “Barbie
Doll,” the reader can achieve almost a sense of relinquishment as the subject
symbolically “…cut off her nose and her legs/ and offered them up.” The
reader is led to believe that the girl has come to a realization that she must
account for the loneliness and emptiness that she has felt as a result of
imitating a false person. This culmination is her death, an act of her
surrendering herself to the pain. With line twenty’s mention of an
“…undertaker’s cosmetics painted on,” the author paints an image of
concealment–the concealment of hurt and anguish suffered when a girl was forced
to assimilate into a materialistic society which functions only according to the
standards set by its members. Line twenty-one continues the pattern of ironic
imagery with a vision of a “putty nose,” something that, along with the
cosmetics, helps to conceal reality, and show the falseness of the idealistic
standards that society dictates. The “pink and white nightie” (22)
symbolizes the supposed demureness of a female by assuming that pink and white
are feminine colors. In line twenty-three, people ask “Doesn’t she look
pretty?” This is yet another example of ironic imagery that the author uses to
make the reader visualize the situation and appraise the nonsensical way in
which we judge others, regardless of whether or not we are actually seeing
deeper than the surface image. The author attempts to evoke pathos in the last
two lines of the poem in the same manner that she used to change the tone at the
end of each stanza–by using ironic imagery and conflicting, bold statements. By
relating the girl’s death to “consummation”(24), she invokes a realization
in the reader of the completion or culmination of an act. This act is the goal
of society to change its inhabitants into “Barbie Dolls.” It wasn’t until
the girl/subject was dead that anyone considered her pretty, and even then it
was not actually her who they were looking at; rather, it was a generated
character. Line twenty-five works with the previous line to evoke feelings of
pity and reconciliation within the reader as they contemplate the severity of
the pressures that society can produce.

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