EL SEGUNDO, CA—Toy company Mattel is under fire from a group of activists who say their popular doll's latest incarnation, CEO Barbie, encourages young girls to set impractical career goals.
"This doll furthers the myth that if a woman works hard and sticks to her guns, she can rise to the top," said Frederick Lang of the Changes Institute, a children's advocacy organization. "Our young girls need to learn to accept their career futures, not be set up with ridiculously unattainable images."
The issue was first brought to national attention by mother, activist, and office manager Connie Bergen, 36, who became concerned when her 5-year-old daughter received the doll as a birthday gift and began "playing CEO."
"Women don't run companies," Bergen said. "Typically, those with talent, charisma, and luck work behind the scenes to bring a man's vision to light."
She added: "Real women in today's work force don't have Barbie's Dream Corner Office. More often than not, they have cubicles—or Dream Kitchens. I mean, what's next? 'Accepted By Her Male Peers' Polly Pocket?"
Despite the growing furor over the doll, Mattel's top brass has indicated no plans to cease its production, insisting that the newest member of the Barbie family represents a positive role model for girls.
"Young girls can be anything they want. There is nothing standing in their way," read a statement signed by Mattel CEO Robert Eckert, president Matt Bousquette, executive vice president Tom Debrowski, and CFO Kevin Farr.
Said Bergen: "I graduated cum laude from Radcliffe and have worked hard all my life, and my career doesn't look anything like Barbie's. Currently, there are only nine female CEOs in America's top 500 companies. To tell our daughters anything else is a lie."
Figures released by the Changes Institute indicate that, although women make up 46 percent of the work force, a mere 15 percent are senior managers. Lang maintains that these facts don't square with the image of the career woman put forth by the doll.
Said Lang: "Any girl who thinks that she can run a large corporation when she grows up is in for a bitter disappointment, and it is simply shameful that Mattel would seek to cash in on impressionable young girls this way."
CEO Barbie comes with a number of accessories and environments, including the Super Barbie Conference Fun Table, Barbie's Company Dream Car and Underpaid Assistant Ken. But by far the most popular version of the doll has been the Talking CEO Barbie.
"This doll says things like, 'Did you get me those projections?' and, 'We need to cut our operating costs by 10 percent,'" Lang said. "It is dishonest to dangle this carrot of success in front of our daughters' noses, when we know that the odds that a girl will grow up to order someone around are virtually zero."
Lang said he does not expect Mattel to recall CEO Barbie, but he wants to send a powerful message to the people in charge.
"When your daughter comes home crying because she was passed over for a promotion for the fourth time, what are you going to tell her?" Lang asked. "It would be easier if she'd been raised with dolls like Glass Ceiling American Girl, Service Sector Bratz, or Maria The White House Maid."