Well, not Barbie exactly — Fulla, and she’s a best-seller in the Mideast. She has the same, uh, “dimensions” as Barbie, but darker hair and features. She comes complete with a hijab, a prayer rug, and solid traditional values.
Fulla is another one of those things that I have mixed feelings about. On one hand, it’s great that girls are playing with a doll that resembles them (at least facially), and that doesn’t present whiteness, blonde hair and blue eyes as a beauty standard in a part of the world where that’s not exactly the norm. It’s good that innovative people in other countries have taken what has largely been a Western-created phenomenon and reshaped it to fit their culture instead of just swallowing it as-is. And Fulla can be a good role model in some aspects:
Though Fulla will never have a boyfriend doll like Barbie’s Ken, Mr. Abidin said, a Doctor Fulla and a Teacher Fulla will be introduced soon. “These are two respected careers for women that we would like to encourage small girls to follow,” he said.
Can’t argue with that (although I wonder what careers aren’t “respected”?)
But not everything about Fulla is so fantastic.
Maan Abdul Salam, a Syrian women’s rights advocate, said Fulla was emblematic of a trend toward Islamic conservatism sweeping the Middle East. Though statistics are hard to come by, he said, the percentage of young Arab women who wear the hijab is far higher now than it was a decade ago, and though many girls are wearing it by choice, others are being pressured to do so.
I think we can all agree that that’s bad — not wearing the hijab in itself, but lacking choice in the matter.
Fatima Ghayeh, who at 15 is a few years past playing with dolls herself, said she felt “sad that no one plays with Barbie anymore.” But, pressed for further explanation, Ms. Ghayeh, dressed in a white hijab and ankle-length khaki coat, appeared to change her mind.
“My friends and I loved Barbie more than anything,” she said. “But maybe it’s good that girls have Fulla now. If the girls put scarves on their dolls when they’re young, it might make it easier when their time comes. Sometimes it is difficult for girls to put on the hijab. They feel it is the end of childhood.” “Fulla shows girls that the hijab is a normal part of a woman’s life.”
There’s something incredibly painful about that quote, isn’t there? When a doll serves to ease you out of a life of relative freedom and into one where it seems that at least some young women feel very contrained, and where they recognize that something has been lost?
So I’m still torn on this one. But my instinct tells me that anything which purports to promote “traditional values” probably isn’t great for women’s rights — considering that “traditional values” is typically code for selective, oppressive values under the guise of “God said so” and “In the good old days…”