If campaign Barbie wants to win, she needs a bigger staff

A+ for effort, but Mattel could do better, these real-life politicos say

Mattel introduced a new set of dolls this week, and people had opinions. ((Courtesy Mattel))
Mattel introduced a new set of dolls this week, and people had opinions. ((Courtesy Mattel))
Posted July 30, 2020 at 6:00am

Barbie was incredibly selective when hiring her campaign staff this year. She brought on only two: a campaign manager and a “campaign fundraiser.”

Their faces are as fresh as the morning dew. Their figures are trim and slim. And that’s sort of the problem.

“I think it’s really cool” that toy company Mattel would want to add political staffers to its ever-expanding cast of dolls, says Rodericka Applewhaite, a self-described Barbie fan. But she has a quibble: “Body diversity would’ve also been nice.”

Applewhaite worked as a researcher for Pete Buttigieg’s presidential bid, and she has other questions too. She’s not mad that “Rapid Response Barbie” isn’t included in the four-doll set, called Campaign Team 2020. But why did “voter” make the cut? And to paraphrase every other overworked, over-caffeinated staffer who chimed in on Twitter this week, where are the signs of sleep deprivation? Why does everyone’s hair look so good?    

Outside of toyland, campaigns don’t seem so shiny. “The voter is not a part of the team. The finance director is not called ‘the campaign fundraiser,’” says Applewhaite. “It seems pretty clear they didn’t really consult anyone in the industry on this.”

Believe it or not, they did. Mattel joined forces with She Should Run, a nonprofit that helps women run for office. As the toymaker unveiled the racially diverse team, featuring a Black doll as the candidate up for election, they also urged adults to “start a conversation about leadership with a girl in their life.”

Among the several political aides I spoke to this week, no one was disputing that Barbie has come a long way since the days of “math class is tough,” which is an honest-to-goodness phrase that a talking version of the doll chirped out in the 1990s.

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They just wanted to remind everyone, including any little girls who might be listening, that campaigning is the opposite of glam.

“I come to work everyday in tank top and jeans and my hair is air-dried,” says a campaign manager for a midwest Democrat (who preferred to remain nameless to freely discuss her fashion habits).  

She might throw on some mascara if there’s a Zoom call, but there’s no chance for a full face of makeup. And what about all the women in data and tech and targeting? They did pretty well in math class.

Barbie needs a bigger campaign team if she’s going to get elected to the office she’s seeking, and lots of people had ideas. “Where’s the Communications Director Barbie?” tweeted Justine Sanders. (She’s one for Republican Rep. Chuck Fleischmann.)

At least one former finance director didn’t care that her job title got lost in translation. “I loved it,” says Kallen Dimitroff, who has worked for candidates in Texas. “I saw myself in fundraiser Barbie,” right down to the long blonde hair.

Barbie has had a long history of career paths meant to inspire young girls. She’s been a doctor, a chef and a polar marine biologist. And yes, she’s run for president a few times before.

“The more we can show the next generation that ‘running for office’ and ‘managing campaigns’ looks like you, the better we’ll be,” says one male campaign staffer for a Northeast Democrat.

When he looked at Barbie’s campaign team, he wasn’t upset to see that men were missing.

“There are plenty of male figures to look up to in politics,” he says.