From Strollerderby: Barbie as Cultural Catalyst (posted March 1, 2007)
Jenna Weissman Joselit's essay at the Jewish Daily Forward about facing off with her niece in the Barbie aisle of the toy store strikes a nerve with me. Barbie is always such a touchy subject for feminists—she has her supporters and detractors, and we are all certain we are correct in our opinions about her.
Something hard to argue about, though, is Barbie's mutability. In the hands of a little girl she is a blank slate, capable of representing nearly any aspect of femininity and yes, of feminism. And in the hands of an adult she can be even more so—witness Joselit's example, Tefillin Barbie—a modified Mattel doll bearing the trappings of a modern Orthodox Jewish woman. This is what has kept Barbie at the top of the toy charts for fifty years: the fact that no matter how much artificial personality her manufacturers and marketing team try to inject her with, she is nothing until she's in the hands of a human being. Once she's out of the box, she is, for better or for worse, whatever you want her to be. There are probably worse symbolic messages to send to little girls than that.
Excerpts from a blog post (http://www.babble.com/CS/blogs/strollerderby/archive/2007/03/01/barbie-a..., link no longer available) responding to the creation of Tefillin Barbie and her blog post about the piece by Jenna Weissman Joselit.