Luckily for state Sen. Mallory McMorrow, D-Royal Oak, her office when she worked at Mattel as a toy designer looked nothing like the sterile, grey cubicle farm portraying the company’s headquarters in the blockbuster hit film Barbie.
But Barbieland – the idealized fictional world home to Barbie, Ken and a host of other Mattel dolls – with its woman president and all-woman supreme court also looks nothing like real-world politics. While women hold Michigan’s top three offices for the first time in state history and the number of women in the state Legislature grew as a result of the last election, the share of seats they hold is still less than the share of female residents in Michigan.
“As much as Barbie wasn’t intentionally about politics, it is,” McMorrow said, reflecting on her experience watching the new movie with her husband where McMorrow said he was the lone man in “a sea of women of all ages” at the theater.
Barbie, she said, represents the “dichotomy of how the world can work versus the reality of how it does.”
The movie focuses on Barbie as a symbol of the unfair expectations placed on women. And it wades into the long-standing debate over whether the doll can be a symbol of female empowerment or a tool to perpetuate unattainable standards for the lives girls can expect to live and what they can expect to look like when they grow up.
Barbie has a range of occupations from astronaut to news anchor. She has her own dreamhouse, lives on her own and hangs out with all her friends. “But (she) has none of the real world challenges,” McMorrow said. Not to mention, she might just fall over if an actual human woman had her body dimensions.
McMorrow said that while working at Mattel, she wrestled with how toys can help expand children’s imagination of what their future holds versus reinforce gender norms. She spent most of her time at the company working on Hot Wheels down the hall from the Barbie design team. It’s an experience she leveraged in her political campaigns and one she draws on in her work in the Michigan Senate.
“There’s nothing like running for office in metro Detroit when you can drop that you were a Hot Wheels designer. It’s a really good ice breaker,” she said.
But she said she wishes generating policy ideas in Lansing would sometimes mirror more closely the process for designing toys, which entailed generating thousands of different ideas and then seeing how a focus group made up of children responds to one.
“You can work on something for six months, feel very passionate about it, and then you put it in front of a four-year-old and if they don’t get it within two seconds, they throw it against the wall,” she said. “And just that blunt feedback is something I wish I had. Versus in politics, everybody is very attached to their idea with their name on it, and they fight like hell to get their idea to be the bill that becomes the law.”
To push back against that political instinct she said she tries to convene colleagues to generate different proposals.
One issue she wants to focus on when lawmakers return from their summer recess is establishing guaranteed paid family leave in Michigan.
It’s an issue she highlighted when she gave birth to her daughter. Now two years old, her daughter is a little young for Barbie, McMorrow said. “I’m sure once Barbie happens, she will love Barbie,” she said. But for now, she seems to copy her mother, setting up her stuffed animals in an arc formation in her crib to hold a meeting with them.
Source: Detroit Free Pass