Highlighting real women

Dear Mattel and moms concerned about role models for your daughters,

Thank you, Mattel, for once again making changes and additions to your line of dolls. In honor of Women’s History Month, you claim that you’ve listened to mothers around the world who are overwhelmingly concerned about the kind of role models to which their daughters are exposed.

While we all know that no one grows up to be actual Barbie, representation matters. It matters that children can see female-identified people portrayed as successful, strong, competent, and diverse.

So even though the Inspiring Women and Shero versions of these women do not look exactly like they do (or did) in real life, it matters that you have a line with dolls who represent amazing women — including women of Latina, African and Asian descent.

It matters that your lines portray women who have achieved success in many fields, including artists, scientists, movie directors, journalists and entrepreneurs — professions which could use a little popularity boost among young female folks.

Your gesture of diversifying dolls joins other gestures by other powerful women.

It joins the speech by Frances McDormand at the Oscars, showcasing the number of women who were nominated, who have more stories to tell and projects to produce, and who may now demand more inclusion riders to ensure diversity in future film endeavors.

It joins the speech by Oprah at the Golden Globes, which launched the new Time’s Up! Movement and recognized the strength of women and applauded their refusal to be silent any longer about harassment and assault.

However…

Moms who are concerned about role models, I’m here to tell you that we need to do a whole lot more than buy diverse dolls for our children and watch folks on television delivering inspiring speeches.

While those things matter, what matters more is to whom your child is exposed in real life.

• Make sure your children of any gender know who the strong, successful, diverse women are in their own lives.

• Invite those women to share their real-life stories of struggle and overcoming obstacles(because you know there were/are struggles and obstacles) — and listen.

• Talk to your children about the fact that many times, life can be hard and unfair, but even so, they have skills to get them through hard times. They can do difficult things. Just because something is challenging, it should not keep them from pursuing what is important to them — what is life-giving and contributes to a better world.

The more they can see and hear from and know real people who have persevered, the more likely they are to see themselves doing that as well.

In honor of Women’s History Month, I challenge each of us to seek out the real life strong, diverse, successful women in our lives, and honor them — with a call, a card, a conversation, an affirmation — because #Time’sUp, #RepresentationMatters and #RealWomenRock.

Amy Johnson, MSW, is a trainer and educator in the Pacific Northwest. She specializes in sexuality education and in promoting safe and healthy sexuality culture in faith communities. All opinions are her own. She can be reached at comments@diligentjoy.com.

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