Like Barbie, who comes with several
conflicting myths of origin that seem at once to explain everything and noth-
ing-The Devoted Mom Who Wanted a Fashion Doll for Her Daughter, The
Inventor Who Also Helped Design the Sparrow and Hawk Missiles and Later
Married Zsa Zsa Gabor, and The U.S. Entrepreneurs Who Realized They
Could Market a German Sex-Symbol Doll to Children-this book has several
telling, if partial, founding tales.
Founding Tale 1:
the fall of 1989, when I was teaching at Northeast-
ern Illinois University, my friend Joanne Kalogeras sent me a recent issue of
the lesbian sex magazine On Our Backs because it contained a photo-essay
called "Gals and Dolls" that features a woman inserting a Barbie (feet first)
into her vagina.l I loved it, and I immediately wanted to teach it in my art
history/women's studies class. I had scheduled a unit on popular culture,
and the photographs seemed like a refreshingly direct response to the often-
asked feminist query, how can pop culture be subversively refunctioned for
women's pleasure?
Besides, Barbie seemed like a great takeoff point for considering cultural
appropriation in general. Barbie has been ubiquitous now for three decades.
Surely Barbie was a cultural icon whom virtually all my students, who varied
widely in age and social background, could identify. Many, I speculated, might
also remember having positioned themselves, as children or as mothers, in
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